I’d seen him flipping through the Town Center before. The guy with the wild curls and even wilder stunts was hard to miss. I thought of him as the Reston ninja, vaulting through the town, landing effortlessly on his feet, and disappearing as quickly as he’d arrived. I saw him again recently at Reston Town Center, this time with two ninja friends. I decided to stop wondering what was going on, and just walk up and ask.
I learned that his name is Omar Zaki, and his friends are Solomon Blackmon and Michael Mullins. “Is this parkour?” I asked Omar. I was vaguely familiar with it. Then I laughed at my obliviousness as I noticed that his shirt said “parkour” in big letters on the front. Yes, he explained. They were parkour athletes in training, and they were happy to tell me all about it.
Parkour is an athletic training practice that uses movement inspired by French military training. The focus is to navigate obstacles elegantly and efficiently. Participants are called “traceurs,” because they “trace” a path through their environment. Freerunning is often done in combination with parkour; freerunning is the practice of expressing oneself through creative movement, such as acrobatic tricks. So parkour involves leaping, vaulting, and climbing amidst obstacles, while freerunning adds dramatic flair. Traceurs are skilled athletes with strength, body control, and style.
Something especially appealing about parkour is that it is accessible to anyone with the discipline to practice. It requires no special equipment, coaching, or location. Although it can be done anywhere, it’s particularly popular in city environments. It’s a daring sport with an urban edge.
To understand parkour, you have to see it in action. Don’t miss this incredible video of Omar, created by the immensely talented filmmaker Ryan Glass. Watch Omar soar over many familiar Reston locations, including Reston Town Center, Lake Fairfax Park, and Lake Anne Plaza. You’ve got to see this!
Omar Zaki is 20-year-old sponsored athlete with the World Freerunning and Parkour Federation (WFPF). He is a Reston resident and Herndon High School graduate. He is a competitive traceur, and recently returned from an international parkour competition in Santorini, Greece. He taught at a parkour gym for two years, and now he teaches private lessons.
Michael Mullins is a 16-year-old student at Chantilly High School. His formal technique in the school’s dive team has been a great asset in his parkour and freerunning training. Solomon Blackmon is a 14-year-old freshman at South Lakes High School. He taught himself parkour and freerunning techniques through YouTube videos and plenty of determination.
I spoke with Omar Zaki, a traceur and long-time Reston resident, for his inside perspective on parkour.
1. Please tell us a bit about your background and how you got involved with parkour.
Well pretty much for as long as I have been alive, I have been an athlete. I have been involved in sports and competition for about 14 years now. I have done many various sports ranging from soccer, track, and diving, to volleyball, snowboarding, and swimming.
I have loved all of the sports that I have done, but I had been watching parkour videos on the internet ever since they existed and I always found them extremely fascinating as well as unbelievable at the same time. When I was young, I never even considered learning it; I thought it was way beyond anything that I could do, so I just continued to watch the videos.
When I was 16, I found out about a parkour facility called Urban Evolution, and I wanted to go give it a try. So I went to the gym and took a basic intro lesson where they teach the basics and fundamentals of parkour, such as how to climb a wall, or how to jump and land properly. I fell in love with it. Something about learning how to move struck a chord inside me, and I have never stopped thinking about it since.
2. What do you love about parkour?
There are so many things that I love about parkour. I love that it is something that not many people do, so people think you are Spiderman when you do what would be considered a basic trick to other freerunners and parkour athletes. It’s always fun to be called Spiderman!
But I love how it is a progression based sport, where there is no finite goal. You are constantly trying to improve yourself in multiple areas, and when you achieve something, you just increase your standards and your expectations of yourself.
I also see parkour athletes as the epitome of general fitness. Parkour athletes have lots of chore strength, as well as the endurance and cardio fitness to be able to train for long amounts of time.
But what I love most about parkour is that you don’t need anyone or anything to practice or train. You don’t need to pay money to purchase equipment. You don’t need to purchase a membership at a gym; you learn that the outdoors is your gym and you can workout anytime, anywhere.
3. What are some of your accomplishments in this field, and what do you hope to accomplish going forward?
Oh boy, when I first started Parkour, it was just a hobby that I started with my friends to keep ourselves fit and busy, because we weren’t really into what a lot of the other teens were getting into those days. But then we kept practicing and kept training, and I never knew I was going to end up where I am today.
- I was really excited when I was put on the front page of the George Mason University newspaper my freshmen year of college! I was also interviewed a couple times by groups on campus, and I ended up on various online newspapers and websites, which again was an amazing feeling.
- I placed 3rd place at a Parkour competition called the FAST contest. It was essentially a speed obstacle course that took place in Washington D.C at a Parkour event called Beast Coast.
- My most recent accomplishment was making it out to Santorini, Greece to compete in the qualifying competition for the Red Bull Art of Motion 2014 freerunning event.
- Probably my happiest moment was when I got offered a sponsorship with the World Freerunning and Parkour Federation (WFPF), because that was a huge step into kind of legitimizing my goals to establish a career in parkour. I am extremely happy to be a part of WFPF, and they are so supportive and such a great group of people to work with.
Things that I want to accomplish are to make it onto American Ninja Warrior, and hopefully do well on that show, but I need to train more in order to partake it that. I would love to try to compete again in Red Bull Art of Motion, and try to make it into the top 18 athletes in the world, and get to compete in the main competition for that event. And hopefully one day become a WFPF Athlete which is the tier above Sponsored Athlete.
4. Do you have a favorite move? Which ones have been particularly challenging to learn?
Well I guess I am known as the frontflip guy around this area. Frontflips were the first trick that I learned and now I love my frontflips. I frontflip off of high rooftops, or across big gaps or do multiple in a row. I’m the frontflip guy.
Twisting has been something that has been very difficult for me to learn, because a lot of the more advanced tricks require more than a single spin in the air, and that is when twisting becomes very technical, but I am definitely starting to get a hang of it now!
5. Tell us about injuries. It looks so dangerous! What injuries have you had, and how do you avoid injury?
Before I had officially started parkour, I was jumping on stuff outside like any child would. I kind of lost my balance in the air, and instead of landing on my feet, I landed on my side. I got a minor wrist fracture, but all in all, it was just a dumb mistake that I learned a very good lesson from. And recently after I had started learning, I went to perform a backflip off of a picnic table, and when I flipped off the end of it the table flipped into the air as well, because it wasn’t bolted into the ground, nor was it very heavy. And because the table almost fell from beneath my feet, I essentially jumped off air and lost all my orientation, and landed on my head on concrete which also taught my a valuable lesson:
No matter how in control you are of your body, if the surroundings that you are using aren’t stable, then it doesn’t matter how good you are. TEST YOUR SURROUNDINGS! I walked away with only a minor concussion, luckily.
6. What is your fitness regimen? What kind of workouts do you need to do to stay in shape?
I do lots of different types of workouts in order to stay fit, but I don’t necessarily have to “workout” to stay in shape. Just doing parkour with your friends and having fun ends up being a very good workout. But I do a lot of body weight exercises, such as pullups and pushups and planks. I also rock climb, and get a very good cardio workout from doing parkour from anywhere between 1 to 8 hours in a day. All of the jumping and landing in parkour and bending of the knees gives your legs/quads a very good workout, so parkour athletes have quite strong legs.
7. Do you have any funny or interesting stories to share with our readers?
Too many and too long 🙂
8. What advice do you have for people getting started in parkour? Can you recommend websites, videos, or training facilities?
Just like any sport, parkour can be dangerous if practiced the WRONG way. I learned a ton from watching probably over 100 tutorials on YouTube. The Internet is a great free resource to learn from.
I taught parkour for 2 years at Urban Evolution, a fitness facility for parkour-based training. It is a great and safe place to learn from very talented, knowledgeable instructors. Urban Evolution is located in Alexandria, Manassas and Baltimore.
I learned to flip mostly at a gymnastics gym called Dulles Gymnastics Academy in Sterling, VA. They have an open gym session every Sunday from 6:30 to 8:00 with trampolines, and foam pits and spring floors. That also is a great, safe place to learn how to flip.
I have also just recently started offering private lessons in parkour, freerunning, basic tricking skills, and basic gymnastics skills such as handstands, back handsprings, and tumbling. I can be found on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.
Thank you, Omar, for your fascinating glimpse into this sport!
Watching these guys in action was eye-opening for me. At first I wasn’t sure what to think of parkour and the people who participate in it. Were guys like Omar adrenaline-junkie daredevils seeking irresponsible thrills? Were they harmless and entertaining performers? I learned that these three traceurs are actually cautious athletes with great respect for their surroundings and the safety of themselves and others. I watched several times as they kept each other informed about the location of people passing by and other dangers. They were particularly careful and patient around children who might wander dangerously close.
Omar talked quite a bit about his respect for fear and risk. He is not fearless; in fact certain stunts frighten him as much as anyone. But he explains that he is motivated by fear to train consistently enough to be confident of his body’s capabilities. Parkour has been an empowering experience for him, and I imagine also for many other people who practice it.
Omar even taught me how to climb up on a ledge in an almost parkour-ish way. I didn’t do anything remarkable, but just climbing in the way he instructed made me feel capable and proud. Now I wish I’d asked him to teach me a couple real moves. Maybe even I have a bit of parkour hidden inside. I guess we all like to dream we can fly.
Many thanks to Omar Zaki, Michael Mullins, and Solomon Blackmon for their contributions to this article. For lots more videos and photos of them in action, follow them on Instagram:
Many thanks also to filmmaker Ryan Glass for sharing his video. For more of his fantastic work, head to his YouTube channel wakeuptoryan. Check out this fun behind the scenes look at the production of Omar’s video. It took 2.5 months to film it! And while you’re at it, watch Omar in this hilarious Parkour Pickup Lines video. (Spoiler alert: They are ineffective.)
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at our story about Surf Reston. What other sports would you like us to cover?