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Parkour and ninja rise in popularity

Two similar, young sports gain legitimacy with gyms and TV shows


arkour came into Mark D’Agosta’s life the way many people find their passions in the 21 century — YouTube.

“I was already doing this stuff,” he said. “There just wasn’t any sort of training or name for it.”

By “this stuff,” D’Agosta, 32, means parkour, a loosely-defined physical training discipline in which participants essentially create obstacle courses from the environment around them that was developed in France in the 1980s.

“I was climbing on buildings, getting on roofs and stuff when I was a kid,” said the Englewood resident.

In 2009, his sister saw the videos of the sport that had become popular online.

“She was like, `Hey, look, there are people who do the stuff you do — but they’re good at it,’ ” he said.

Parkour has moved indoors in recent years, first being incorporated into gymnastics programs. As popularity has grown, dedicated parkour gyms have sprung up, and a new offshoot, “ninja training,” has evolved. Ninja, as seen on the televised American Ninja Warrior competition and others like it, has competitors running defined obstacle courses against one another, distinguishing it from parkour.

“Parkour is pure imagination,” said John Maul, who co-owns Ninja Intensity gym in Castle Rock with Brandi and Ryan Lebsack.

Ninja Intensity offers classes in parkour and ninja, mainly geared towards kids. The Lebsacks decided to open the gym after their son, Kaden, found a passion for it. Their classes have steadily increased in size since they opened in December and they plan to offer camps this summer.

D’Agosta has coached parkour, along with gymnastics, in gyms but prefers outdoors, finding areas downtown where one can find walls, fountains or other infrastructure that can be turned into obstacles without trespassing.

“For me,” he said, “parkour is about your environment.”

D’Agosta founded the parkour club at Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, where he recently graduated. This past semester, he had about 10 consistent club members. The most he has had in a semester was 50, split between ACC students and community members.

Ninja training is mostly done in the gym, and practitioners are in the midst of trying to legitimize it as a sport, with organized leagues like the National Ninja League popping up.

“I see it branching away from the reality show aspect,” Maul said.

Lorin Ball, an American Ninja Warrior competitor, owns Ninja Brand Parkour Gym in Henderson, about 15 miles north of Denver along I-76Although most of his students are kids, he said, the sports of ninja and parkour appeal to teens, young adults and even older adults looking to try something new.

“They need more,” he said. “They need something where they can apply the exercise they’ve done.”

Maul came to the budding sport not long ago, with most of his fitness background being in powerlifting. Many of the adults starting ninja are also Crossfit athletes, weightlifters, runners or rockclimbers, Ball said.

For kids, Ball says parkour and ninja are ways to “get off of the video games and be the video game.”

Joey Piersee, 16, started ninja recently and is already coaching kids at Ninja Intensity.

“It’s a good way to work out,” he said. “It’s a good way to have fun. It’s a good way to be competitive.”

While there is certainly a completive angle to ninja, particularly at the higher levels, Maul said it is really more about competing against yourself.

“It’s a small world,” he said, “and what I truly love about it is the support we give each other.”

Training in gyms, with mats, adds an element of safety. D’Agosta has had several inuries doing parkour over the years.

“I broke my hand, I shattered my collarbone, hyperextended my elbow and had a few pretty serious tendon issues in my ankle and shoulder.”

However, D’Agosta said those were mainly in his early years in the sport, when he had less understanding of how to train safely. His past injuries have influenced him to pursue a career in physical therapy.

People will drive a long way to train in parkour or ninja. Before opening the gym, the Lebsacks were driving Kaden to Longmont to work out. Brandi said Ninja Intensity has members from as far away as Colorado Springs.

After four years of coaching, Ball doesn’t see an end to the popularity.

“We still haven’t seen a plateau yet,” he said.


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