Nancy Lorentz cites a C.S. Lewis quote as one of her inspirational favorites: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can go back and change the ending.”
As the executive director and co-founder of PK Move, a nonprofit that offers parkour training to the Northern Virginia community, she’s in the business of helping people get motivated to stay healthy and try to “change their ending.”
“I don’t like to go into a doom-and-gloom speech, but sometimes I do cite the statistic that 27,000 older people die each year as a result of a fall, or injuries sustained from serious falls,” says Lorentz. “The only way to avoid becoming a statistic is to be an advocate for your own health and wellness.”
That’s why PK Move offers a specialized curriculum of parkour for older adults, which focuses on stretching and strengthening muscles to prevent falls, as well as a variety of other parkour-based classes, such as kid-focused lessons and parkour pop-up playgrounds.
We spoke to Lorentz about how she got involved in the sport and how PK Move continues to transform lives within the Northern Virginia community. Find highlights from our conversation below.
For those who might be unfamiliar with parkour, can you describe it in your own words?
Parkour is the art of moving through your environment in a smooth, efficient manner. This art of movement requires and builds mental and physical strength to overcome obstacles in the path you have chosen. Generally, parkour involves crawling, running, jumping, leaping, climbing, swinging or diving. There are no set routines (such as in yoga or tai chi) for practicing parkour, although proper functional form is required to train safely. This means if 10 people traverse the same obstacle course, you will see 10 variations according to the traceur’s abilities and self-expression at that moment. (A traceur is a person who practices parkour, although we call our members PK Movers. Female is traceuse.) One person may run the course 10 times, 10 different ways or repeat it exactly the same way and try to get faster with each run. It depends upon the training goals of the individual.
How did you get started in parkour?
I signed up for an introductory parkour lesson back in 2011. I learned about it after watching the James Bond film, Casino Royale, and was motivated to try it for several reasons: curiosity, a personal dare and even partially as a joke. On the doorstep of 50 years old and a couch potato, I wasn’t optimistic about making it through the two-hour class for super-fit, young people. Somehow, I made it through and even though the results weren’t pretty (I was in bed unable to move for several days, then I couldn’t walk for a few more. Yes, I overdid it!), I was instantly hooked and began to train regularly at the gym and on my own. I became rather obsessed with parkour and visited parkour gyms or jams (when parkour communities get together to train) when I traveled. In 2014, my world turned upside down with a cancer diagnosis. Of course, I give major props to my medical team and the loving support of family and friends. However, I also knew how much mental and physical strength parkour training had given me to get through the treatment. Parkour saved my life and I wanted to share it with others.
How did PK Move really get up and running from this desire to share your love of parkour?
Once rare, it is now fairly easy to find a parkour gym, or a parkour class at larger fitness facilities or gymnastics gyms. However, I recognized there was an opportunity for a niche organization with increased and more appropriate coaching qualifications, as well as a parkour curriculum specifically designed and modified for people like myself who had special needs. In particular, I saw parkour as the perfect answer to the falling crisis for older adults in our nation. (According to the CDC, more than one in four adults aged 65 and older will fall, and the act of falling and sustaining injuries is the number one cause of death in older adults.) With two friends, Jean Lam and Rosy Noguchi, we began testing curriculum and drew up a business plan. That ultimately led to us founding PK Move as a nonprofit. I believe PK Move is the first parkour gym to be founded by women, at least in the Northern Virginia area. We highly value our wonderful team, which currently numbers 19 dedicated board members, coaches and volunteers and is majority female (53%)—another contrast to most parkour gyms. We operate as a gym without walls, and go to people who want parkour training. Now in our fourth year, we have five different programs and currently offer classes in the DC and Northern Virginia area through a mix of public and private classes. Our flagship program is PK Silver, a parkour-based fitness and falls prevention class for adults 50-plus.
Can you tell us more about PK Silver?
The PK Silver classes are one-hour long and held outdoors whenever possible. The class format consists of a warmup of all muscle groups, then we shift gears to increasingly aerobic activities. Next, we have strength and conditioning with body weight exercises, focusing on core and lower body muscle groups. We teach or practice one new modified parkour skill or move for fall prevention each session, and there is always a movement game or obstacle course, which includes balance and mindfulness work. We cool down class with stretching and flexibility and close with breathing exercises.
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Also, in general, obstacles are at ground-level or just above. Nothing is higher than the items you encounter in your own home on an everyday basis. Also, we have no jumping or running in our classes. This is not to say that people 50 years or older cannot jump or run! It just means in PK Silver we don’t do it. We can still make the class very physically challenging. All ability levels are welcome, but participants must be able to move about without assistance, and take care of their personal needs independently. PK Silver is also available to adults who use assistive devices requiring caregivers, if the caregiver registers and participates with the senior adult. (Caregiver must be 18-plus.) We also have a class for non-ambulatory or those in memory care. Participants must complete our waiver and PAR-Q (physical activity readiness questionnaire, a standard fitness form). In some cases, a doctor’s note with permission to attend is also required. Our classes are offered both publicly, meaning anyone may join as long as space allows and health requirements are met, and privately to closed groups. We prefer to have people join our classes regularly, as parkour is a great community-building tool, so much so that making friends seems to be part of the curriculum, but we do have the ability to coach private sessions depending on coach availability.
What are some of the biggest lessons older individuals can learn from parkour?
Parkour is generally thought of as a daredevil sport for young people. Most people know it from the realm of American Ninja Warrior or stunt performers. However, all these amazing athletes started training on the ground. Without the ability to balance, or land safely, they could be gravely injured. This is something unique and a key aspect of parkour that you don’t in any other sports, with the exception of gymnastics. And this is what parkour can offer to older individuals. Parkour coaches know how to help you calm your fears of falling by building strength, both mentally and physically, through fun training. Which takes me to another point: all exercise and falls prevention classes are good for older adults, but there are very few that are as innovative and exciting as parkour. However, if you can’t find a PK Silver class and choose to go to different parkour classes, do your homework. Parkour is a relatively young sport. Your coach may be a beautiful mover, but that doesn’t mean he knows the first thing about training an older body! What kind of certifications and education and how many years of experience does the coach have in senior fitness? Look for coaches who hold degrees in kinesiology or exercise science or have earned a nationally recognized certification (NASM, ACSM, ACE or AFAA), in addition to their parkour certification. Does the coach and gym carry insurance? Is the coach and gym CPR-first aid-AED-certified?