At age 3, Gunner Arrizon might not be a ninja or Olympian but he and more than 30 other children at Fort Campbell already have a leg up and over future competitors.
They are taking part in one of three Parkour classes offered at SKIESUnlimited where they are leaping, rolling, crawling and, most importantly, overcoming obstacles, while burning energy and learning skills that may set them up for a lifetime of fitness and competition.
The Parkour classes are taught by Storm Sims, an instructor of the sport who teaches participants to move their body through space – and over, under, or around obstacles – with ease and efficiency. For the newest class of 3 year olds that mostly means jumping from one padded cushion to another, climbing in and out of a circle on the floor or rolling down a cushioned wedge.
For some of the older children, it means learning to “walk” eight to 10 feet up walls, swing from rings or vault over obstacles. While for some Parkour is child’s play, the lessons and skills students learn can impact their future and self-esteem, Sims said.
“We are teaching them that physical activity and working out and training is fun,” he said. “I always put it in the aspect of games. ‘we’re going to play this game or that game,’ so they’re like, ‘games, oh yes,’ and they’re in there and they’re sweating and huffing and puffing and their arms are getting sore and they’re crawling and doing all kinds of stuff and they say, ‘I’m tired coach but let’s keep going.’”
Sims started teaching classes at Fort Campbell after retiring in 2015 as a master sergeant from 5th Special Forces Group. He began teaching Parkour in 2018, and brings Parkour classes to SKIESUnlimited and Fort Campbell Youth Sports Mondays and Tuesdays.
Plans are underway to expand the program and enhance SKIESUnlimited with improvements that will include features such as a bouldering area where Parkour students can walk sideways, and new gymnastic rings, Sims said.
Sims is looking to add a class of 4 and 5 year olds when there is enough participation. On Mondays he offers Parkour classes for students ages 4-9 and 10-18.
Staff Sergeant Alfred Arrizon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), said his son, Gunner, is still getting used to Parkour after three classes, so he stays close by.
The winter weather makes the indoor facility an ideal place to play and Arrizon has already noticed his son’s Parkour skills improving.
“He’s only 3 and we wanted to get him out of the house more,” he said. “This is his activity to expend energy. His favorite part is doing obstacles. If he falls down, it’s always a soft landing, so it doesn’t scare him.”
Sims said many of his students are inspired by the “American Ninja Warrior” television shows and the spin-off competitions.
Having activities children love can not only make them feel better physically, but deal with other problems they might face, from bullying at school to learning disabilities, he said.
“I have kids who are all over the spectrum, autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD,” Sims said. “When they came in the door on the first day they could barely touch an obstacle and now they’re like, ‘Coach, can I go jump on this, Coach can I climb on that,’ and being able to see that change, see them light up, it’s exciting for me and the parents.”
The skills they learn from Parkour through movements become automatic and helps rewire the brain for many, he said. They learn not only to use their bodies better, but to make better decisions. They also learn that just because something might be temporarily uncomfortable, it doesn’t really hurt and to keep trying so it gets easier.
Extra incentive comes from color-coded wrist bands, ranging from white to black, much like belts in karate. By following directions and doing well in class and showing off good report cards, they can earn higher bracelets. Self-discipline is as important as muscle building.
“It’s teaching all the kids to just be better overall people,” Sims said. “I don’t want them to just be better athletes and students here. I want them to be better people as a whole. Even if they PCS and move, I want them to have a good foundation on being a better person wherever they go and whatever they do. You can be a better athlete and a better student and a better person. You can do all these things if you are taught.”
Karla Cole brings her 3-year-old son, Ethan, to release energy and have fun, she said.
“We really love it,” Cole said. “Coach is amazing. He keeps them focused.”
Ethan has made friends since beginning the class three months ago and he’s already becoming stronger, she said.
“I think he gets a release of energy and he becomes stronger,” Cole said. “His strength and focus have grown stronger. He looks forwards to Tuesdays to come play with Coach.”
Gunner looks forward to class too, Arrizon said.
“He likes saying, ‘I want to go to jumpy class,’” he said. “He calls it jumpy class.”
The Parkour classes help balance out Youth Sports offerings and adds much to the program, said Paige Commander, Youth Sports program manager.
“It gives us another option for parents, especially parents who have young boys and our older boys,” Commander said. “Some of our classes are geared more toward girls, our gymnastics, our cheer, our dance. Even though boys participate in those, the bulk of our students are girls, so it gives us an outlet for those boys.”
Sims instructs boys and girls and often the girls “smoke” the boys on the obstacles, he said. Students are put in classes based on their age, with both sexes and special needs students all working together, supporting one another and high-fiving successes.
The class also offers a unique experience for many children, Commander said.
“It is completely different than anything else we do,” she said. “I think the kids really enjoy it, the fact that it changes week to week. It’s always something new, something different, something they’re not going to get bored with and the kids just have so much fun. It’s a chance to get out there, run and play and be a child. You’re working on your fitness and your muscle development and kinesthetic awareness and where your body is in relation to other people.”
The Parkour class for 3 year olds meets once a week for 25 minutes, while the other age groups meet once a week for one hour. The cost of the class, depending on age, is $27-$55 per month. “If the kids start the habit of being fit and being active early, they are going to continue that as an adult,” Commander said. “It’s hard when you’re an adult and sedentary to get active. It’s a lot easier to start off active and maintain it than to try to do it later in life.”