By Brian Coatney
Have you ever seen a kid walk a 2-inch-wide ratchet strap suspended 2 feet above the floor? If not, go to Bluegrass Dynamics and you will. The obstacle is called the slackline, but it’s not for slackers.
At Bluegrass Dynamics — a parkour and obstacle course training gym — children ages 5 to 13 learn concentration, balance and determination during five-week Saturday classes with owner Marc Namie and associate coach Tyler Stallons.
For the youngsters, the training classes are a way to stay active in a world consumed by video games, smartphones and social media interaction. For older observers, the classes bring back memories of jumping off furniture, then walls, leaping bushes and darting around trees, even swinging from ropes over the river.
Marc, 36, and Tyler, 28, have taken an inherent childhood love of movement and merged it with the physical training method of parkour (meaning “quickest way through” in French) and the popular television show “American Ninja Warrior.”
Both Marc, an Army veteran, and Tyler, a teacher at Hopkinsville Middle School, have both competed on American Ninja Warrior.
Combine their enthusiasm for the show with their skill for obstacle courses, and you get a duo who not only has a passion for parkour but also outreach for children.
Marc’s wife, Erin, who is the head coach and co-owner of the Bluegrass Cheercats, opened the team’s gym for the training sessions to begin. The spring floor and added layers of foam are perfect for parkour — just walking on it is fun.
Marc installed ceiling ropes and rings that one has to leap to catch a grip. There’s also a carpeted balance beam to walk across and an even more challenging round, metal pipe to traverse. Then, there’s the “warped wall,” which may be the most challenging obstacle of all.
The wall is about 8 feet tall and concave, with a longer outward slope at the bottom so that one will have to run up far enough to reach and grab the top of the wall. The idea is to pull up on top of the wall and jump down onto a soft, landing cushion.
Both Marc and Tyler have mastered it, and they’re training their younger protégés to master it, too.
A typical class begins with Marc and Tyler dividing the group into four or five kids each.
“Small groups work better,” Marc says, “because there is less milling around.”
Marc and Tyler keep the instruction going at a steady, energetic pace loaded with encouragement and learning points about how to jump and maneuver with balance.
Tyler takes one group for 20 minutes and works on jumping. He’s constantly coaching with words like, “Lean forward” or “Use the edge to get momentum.”
Jumping from one slightly raised cushion to another turns out to be trickier than it appears.
“The floor is the ocean,” Tyler says. “If you miss the platform, you drown.”
After some practice, he spaces the cushions 5 feet apart.
Meanwhile, Marc is saying, “Just because you run across a balance beam doesn’t mean that you have good balance. It means that you ran fast.” He then demonstrates how to walk slowly with good balance skills going frontways, sideways and backwards. The kids love it, and he goes on to explain how balance is an important skill in many sports.
Tyler, who coaches soccer at Hopkinsville High School, says he wishes parkour was popular when he played soccer in school.
“I would have kept my balance more often in those situations where I would trip and fall.”
The groups then switch instructors, so each groups gets 20 minutes on jumping and balancing. The final 20 minutes is an obstacle course, starting with four carpeted pyramids arranged in square formation. The kids must jump crossways from one to another, then laterally from there and back across.
Next, they jump onto a higher cushion and walk or crawl across a tall plastic drain pipe covered with ridges. Then comes the wooden cylinder mounted inside of two tall, wooden wheels. The goal is to walk on the cylinder and roll the whole piece along, or sit on the cylinder and roll the whole piece by its outer wheels across to another cushion.
The final obstacle is for the older group. Each person jumps onto a hanging ring, swings to several other rings and dismounts onto the last cushion.
Marc, a civilian contractor at Fort Campbell, and Tyler, who teaches seventh grade at Hopkinsville Middle School, always make time for parkour.
They both work out twice a week for at least an hour and are always challenging themselves to learn new skills and hone existing ones.
Marc says, “Parkour is a culture. There’s a freedom to it, almost hippie like.”
Tyler adds, “It’s not strongly competition based. You’re competing more against yourself and cheering others on.”
Most of the money from the five-week Saturday classes goes back into upgrades for the gym. Erin, who is stretching on the foam floor, nods and says, “Yes, they’re not doing it for business reasons.”
Both coaches love to see their students learn new techniques. They are constantly encouraging the youngsters to never say what they can’t do.
“One kid ran at the warped wall 100 times before he could run up far enough to reach and pull himself on top,” Marc recalls.
As the new year approaches, the duo is offering open gym time for adults and families to give the obstacles a try. Another five-week session for children will begin in January.
Without a website, enrollment comes from word of mouth and their Facebook page, “Bluegrass Dynamics.” So far, it seems to be working.
Check out videos of classes on YouTube and visit their Facebook page, “Bluegrass Dynamics,” for updates on registration for the new five-week class in January.