Top parkour athlete reveals troubled past and recipe for success

Life is fractal. Look at how a wave breaks or or how a tree’s limbs split into progressively smaller branches. Parkour is defined as “the activity or sport of moving rapidly through an area, typically in an urban environment, negotiating obstacles by running, jumping, and climbing.” For many, like top-ranked TJ Stuart, that sentence is a microcosm for growing up. 

He dealt with things no kid should have to go through. And the trauma took its toll. Angry and confused, he would lash out. If there was a fight at school, odds are he was involved. Trips to the principal’s office were not unusual. His frustrations would manifest themselves elsewhere, too. He would steal – just for the hell of it. By his own admission, he wasn’t quite right.

That is, until he found parkour. He found serenity in the methodical planning and execution of lines. Flip here, pivot here; those were problems he could solve. He would go to the park for hours and practice different techniques. There was a catharsis to his movements. Each successful line was a problem solved or demon vanquished. He realized he could negotiate real-world problems in the same calculated way; visualizing the end and then determining the appropriate steps to take to achieve that outcome.

It was an epiphany for TJ. Obstacles that were insurmountable became manageable. Day by day, things fell into place. Soon, he had another revelation. It wasn’t just doing parkour that he enjoyed, it was teaching it. In 2012, he started working for Tempest, one of the nation’s top parkour gyms.

I never want somebody to go through or deal with the issues that I had to growing up. I want other people to feel like somebody’s invested.

TJ Stuart

Five years later, he’s still at Tempest, teaching. His hard work is reflected in his students’ smiles as they bounce around the gym. The troubled kid prone to fisticuffs has grown into someone fully in control. It’s clear that finally, he is a man at peace.

Parkour taught him how to problem solve and to approach things with an open mind; that he has the tools to create a path that leads where he wants to go. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say parkour saved TJ’s life, and now he’s giving back to the sport that gave so much to him.

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