Overcoming Barriers: Adaptive Movement Is Parkour for the Physically Disabled

Categories: Spaced City

Rob Lynn leans against the painted white brick wall. His eyes are trained on Cameron Pratto, a muscular but not stout man with a cool but nondescript accent, who has tattoos up his whole right arm and a shaved head.

Pratto walks between two three-and-a-half-foot wooden structures and gives instructions that lack detail.

"I'm being intentionally vague," he tells his class of parkour students.

He wants them to decide how to maneuver around the obstacle in front of them. Every person is different. Every body is different. The goal is to get from point A to point B some way, any way.

Lynn positions himself on one side of the wooden block. He places both hands on top of the structure and pushes down to lift himself off the ground. His butt lands on top of the wood, and he swings his body 180 degrees, so that he's now facing the other side of the room. He pushes off the block and lands back on the ground.

Lynn has one leg.

This isn't the sort of crazy parkour that goes viral on YouTube. There's no jumping from rooftop to rooftop. There's no swinging from ceiling rails.

Vaulting over fountains? You won't find that here.

This is Adaptive Movement, a parkour class for physically disabled people that's taught by Heights parkour studio Urban Movement. And while Lynn, who had an above-knee amputation of his left leg, might never become Internet-famous for his vaults, his balance has increased because of the class. He used to be able to stand on one foot without help for two minutes at a time. After five weeks with Urban Movement, he can stand for 30.

"I went to kind of a dark place after I lost my leg, because suddenly I had to relearn how to do everything," Lynn says, "and I'm not in that place anymore."

Photo by Ric Sucgang

Jeff Bourns was born without a tibia in his right leg, the bone that connects the knee to the ankle. At two months old, he had part of his leg amputated.

He says that while growing up, he felt at times as if he were the only amputee in Houston. There was no sense of community.

"Things were a lot different back then," Bourns says.

Maybe, but Bourns led the life of a normal teenager, amputation or no amputation. He played tennis for Clear Brook High School. He was in the marching band.

"I never had any exceptions made for me," Bourns says.

Then his prosthesis failed in 2005. That led to surgeries, hospital visits and a realization. He wasn't the only amputee in Houston.

According to the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, there are nearly 2 million people dealing with limb loss in the United States. Bourns thought they were being exploited -- being sold medical devices they didn't need.

So he did something about it. He started the Houston Amputee Society in 2013 in order to, as he puts it, let amputees learn about their potential resources from a "non-biased" perspective.

Then Bourns got a new perspective on parkour. Ric Sucgang, an able-bodied man, reached out to Bourns about a parkour class for amputees. Sucgang had been learning parkour through Urban Movement for about half a year.

Bourns says his first thought when Sucgang approached him about such a class was that it "didn't make sense." Then Sucgang explained a bit more.

"I hit upon this idea that the discipline of parkour, it's all about adapting to environment," Sucgang says. "People have different ways of adapting to their environment, especially if you're an amputee or have some kind of neurological deficiency. I just thought, 'Who has thought to put the two together before?'"

Bourns was sold.

"The study of movement, and adapting -- as an amputee, that's something that we deal with every day," Bourns says.

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