Just over a year ago an event popped up that sparked my interest. A friend of mine; David Banks; was going to try and complete a marathon. Now this may seem quite ordinary, and I would agree; I myself have completed an ultra-marathon; but the thing that makes this particular marathon stand out was that he was going to do the whole thing balancing on a rail. Now that’s a challenge! He was doing so to raise money for charities; like FYI; that use parkour as a tool to improve the health and wellbeing, both physically and mentally, of those struggling with mental health issues.
Not long before the event David actually had to pull out due to an injury; but he didn’t want to let anyone down so he put it out there for 26 people to jump in for him and cover a mile each. I just so happened to be one of those people. Now for me I was going through a rough time, I was homeless, furloughed and had no idea what the future held for me. I was very down and struggling to see the end. This was exactly what I needed.
I had never done anything like this before but the challenge was set! I found my closest rail (which included corners, jumps, loose rails and dog walkers constantly walking by) and told myself if I fell off of the rail at any point I would have to start the whole thing again! The date was set for all of us and then it was go time.
I had no idea how long it would take but I wasn’t going to stop until it was done. The first few lengths were hard, gauging the rail, making sure my foot placement was correct and warming up; but as I got used to the rail I balanced on it became easier. Every step felt calculated and smooth, mastering the most efficient path. My entire body was working in complete synchronisation with all of my focus on staying on the rail.
Half an hour later and I’m still on the rail, still balancing ticking over. If you’ve ever stayed on a rail for this long you will understand the strain that focusing on such a task places on your mind. My vision starts to go blurry and depth perception starts changing; the only thing still in focus is the rail. Everywhere else I look is just waves of blurriness as my eyes try to readjust. The best thing to do is to just keep looking at the rail until I’m done.
This is when I experienced what is now more known as ‘Flow’ or ‘in the zone’ in sports. It’s a phenomenon where you just switch off your brain and let your body take over. Sounds easy but it is a very elusive thing. No self-judgement, no over-thinking, no minds wandering; just you and the task with no distractions. There was no thinking about my next step or worrying about distance. There was no thinking about anything! And in that moment all of my worries were gone; the reality of returning to homelessness, what the future held or where my next meal was coming from mattered; all that mattered was staying in this zone and finishing the task.
After just over an hour I was done! The challenge was completed; but something more than that, I had a clear mind left over from the experience; no more anxiety or depression for the time being. This allowed me time to think and put better measures in place to get me back on track and gave me the confidence I needed to fi the broken situation I had found myself in.
A year later and I’m much better off; I have a steady job, a nice flat and always have food on my table. But something is missing. I have become complacent in my life and giving myself challenges to overcome; I have become tied up and mentally in the same place I was a year ago despite my circumstances being different. This is when David posted again with an even bigger challenge! We were going to use a team effort approach again to complete the distance of The Nullarbor Straight (146.6km).
This made me realise about the slump I found myself in and the experience I had the year before; so of course I signed up again! This time though, I wanted to do more; I thought about doing more distance but I realised this was an opportunity; an opportunity to do something for others. Instead of focusing on myself I shared the challenge with the athletes I coach and together we completed 7km. I explained to them that parkour can be used an opportunity to improve ourselves in many ways and to find balance within our lives. I explained that the challenges we face in parkour are gateways to overcome the challenges we face in our lives and as corny as it sounds it is something I wholeheartedly believe!