Overcoming Barriers: Adaptive Movement Is Parkour for the Physically Disabled
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?'"
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Bourns was sold.
"The study of movement, and adapting -- as an amputee, that's something that we deal with every day," Bourns says.
Instructor Wes Hmaner helps student Jolie Smith, who lost the ability to walk when she was 11.
Photo by Aaron Reiss
One of the class's students, 12-year-old Jolie Smith, has had to adapt a lot in her life. She has scoliosis and lordosis, and both of her hips are dislocated.
Jolie's mother, Monica Ramos, says her daughter didn't learn to walk until age four. She lost that ability at age 11.
Ramos says she and her daughter were having a "mommy and me" day as a celebration when it happened. Jolie's school had just made an exception to one of its policies, allowing her not to carry all her books in a backpack from class to class. The idea behind the original rule was to train kids for Spring ISD schools where there are no lockers. Ramos thought the policy shouldn't hold "whenever the backpack weighs more than her."
After getting lunch, Jolie and her mother walked into a movie theater to see The Odd Life of Timothy Green. When the movie was over, Jolie couldn't walk out of the theater.
"Prognosis was the heavier [the] weight she carried, the quicker it was going to be that she lost her ability to walk," Ramos says. "So that's kind of how it played out."
Now Jolie spends most of her time in her wheelchair, the frame of which is purple and dotted with brightly colored owls.
Jolie says she attended her first Adaptive Movement class only because her mother made her, but now she likes it. Her legs feel stronger.
"It's good to just work out," she says.
Her mom says it's more than just a workout. Jolie's whole family participates in the class with her. And Jolie is gaining confidence to deal with the bullies at her school.
"She knows and she sees the little things that she thought she couldn't do, and then she overcomes them," Ramos says. If nothing else works against the bullies, Ramos tells her daughter, "just say you'll punch them in the throat. I don't care."
The URL is outdated. The website address is houstonamputeesociety.org, but Jeff Bourns's project outgrew its old name. With, 6,437 members and counting, according to Bourns, the nonprofit is now the American Amputee Society. It's expanding, with chapters planned in Dallas, California and Pennsylvania.
Bourns and Pratto want Adaptive Movement to expand, too. But accomplishing that is more difficult than just sending Pratto or one of Urban Movement's other teachers around the country for Adaptive Movement classes.
The American Amputee Society finances the class in Houston; Pratto says Urban Movement offers the adaptive class for free; students don't pay for anything. In order to extend that to other parts of the country, Bourns and Pratto need to fundraise.
The American Amputee Society and Urban Movement are in the process of putting together a Kickstarter to help finance the classes. Pratto says that a promotional video has been made to raise money for a short documentary on Adaptive Movement.
If Adaptive Movement is helping disabled people in Houston, why can't it do the same elsewhere? Dr. Danielle Melton, director of the Amputee and Orthotics and Prosthetics Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann, says that amputees can be very physically fit if they put in the effort and are careful.
"There are amputees that run marathons; you just have to be cautious they're not going to cause [themselves] more of a problem," she says.
According to Melton, a lot of amputees' abilities to do demanding exercise depends on how much therapy they participate in.
While the expansion of Adaptive Movement is somewhat uncertain, Lynn's plans -- at least his family and fitness ones -- have been defined. He'll continue to go to Adaptive Movement, where he says he has met "some of the coolest people in the world," and get the word out about what he's doing every Saturday. He says he had to post videos and pictures on Facebook of him vaulting to prove to his family that he wasn't lying about all the parkour he'd been doing.
"It's definitely a seeing-is-believing thing," he says.
Next year, when Lynn's son Eric is older, Lynn plans to take him to Adaptive Movement class with him. He says his son loves to work out with his dad. The other day, the four-year-old told Lynn he wanted to go for a run when his dad got back from the grocery store.
Lynn pointed at his leg.
"You hop, I'll run," his son said.
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