outdoorpals Interview: Cordellia Hollingsworth, Executive Director at Parkour Visions

We're excited to share with you an interview we had recently with Cordellia Hollingsworth, the executive director at Parkour Visions. Parkour Visions is a non-profit in the Seattle area that seeks to help people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities get involved in parkour so they can enjoy the benefits of it. It was a great conversation about a number of parkour related topics and some nuggets of wisdom about life in general. We hope you can learn more about parkour and Parkour Visions. Enjoy!

Photo from Parkour Visions

OP: Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got into parkour? CH: Before parkour I basically had no athletic background. I was 19 or 20 when I started parkour and I found parkour because I went to film school after high school. Growing up I had done some hiking, camping, and rock climbing as a kid but I never liked P.E. and ball sports. That was my background and I wasn't in shape by any means and so when I found parkour I was a pretty nerdy kid who played a lot of video games. I was a theater kid so I went to film school after high school and I saw a documentary that a student had created in Vancouver, BC about a person doing parkour. I remember having this almost zen and ninja vibe to it. They were out of the city and they trained their bodies to be the best. Because I liked video games and Dungeons and Dragons I loved all of that and it sat in the back of my brain during that year of school. By the end of film school I had developed an eating disorder. So when I finished film school I went back to Seattle I decided I was going to do everything I could to be thin. This included everything from working at the mall where there were thin model-like people were working, to trying a bunch of different sports, karate, personal trainers, circuits. It was all about how I could be thin and it wasn't coming from a healthy place. During all of this, I happened to remember parkour so I Googled "Seattle parkour classes" and I saw what was at the time called Pacific Northwest Parkour Association which is now Parkour Visions. The founders there were teaching like two classes a week at a crossfit gym and then they would have a couple meetups outside. So I tried the class and I distinctly remember that it was the most community based class I had experienced. All of the students were all involved and not just looking at the coach like other classes I had seen. It was fun and people were trusting in me. The students themselves in addition to the coaches were excited with my progress in parkour. So I went back to my boyfriend at the time and was like, "You need to try this."

Photo from Parkour Visions

OP: How has parkour benefited you? How have you seen it help other people as well? CH: Parkour played a pretty integral part in overcoming the eating disorder and handling my emotions around it. There were obviously other components like getting a therapist, some personal development programs, but the part that parkour played gave me something else to do with my body. Instead of working out to be fit or starving myself I instead needed to eat healthy so I could do parkour and exercise so I could jump further and train so I could learn how to do handstands and things. I definitely was a slow learner because I didn't have an athletic background. So it wasn't all just an easy ride at the time. I had to deal with other eating disorders like orthorexia, which is being a perfectionist with eating perfectly healthy all the time and obsessing over that. So in some ways I hadn't fully recovered from my eating disorder even though I wasn't purging or starving myself anymore. Instead I had a perfectionist mindset that played into my parkour for a while so I had to actually learn to manage that. So it's been a 10 year journey, even though there have been ups and downs I equate parkour to helping me feel comfortable in my body and what it does. One of the hardest parts was accepting my body for what it is right now. I'm happy where I am now and I want to "level up."I have seen so many ways. I found parkour to be a community that really wants to be inclusive. There are bumps in the road like parkour being a male dominated sport, so for women who aren't that tomboy personality it can be pretty hard to feel accepted in it, but there are also a lot of people in parkour that want to create safe spaces for people from different backgrounds. For example, there's been a national women's gathering for the past ten years. In competitions there was a whole conversation about if women should have equal pay and there was a lot of support for things like that. I have friends who are trans and who have different racial and ethnic backgrounds that do parkour and my experience has been extremely positive. It's also a lot of ways that it is a couch surfing community, though obviously not during COVID. I've gone to India and Mexico and I just reached out to the parkour community saying "Hey I'm going here, who can help house me?" So that's been a really great opportunity. It is a community that really wants to be inclusive. There are two sides of parkour, one of which is the more skill based/competition circuit which has this methodology of pushing yourself really hard. The other side is this holistic mindset around who is not included in parkour. It's looking at how we increase trans participation, people who are not able-bodied participation, how do we increase elderly participation? Parkour is fundamentally just going outside and creating challenges for yourself and your body. To support that is an experience of playfulness. It's like when you're a kid and you're like "what if I jump on this? What if I play on this?" That's really the spirit of parkour. It is like adult play and it is very intergenerational where I'll train with a 60 year old and a 12 year old on the same day. That is something that is pretty unique to parkour. We really want to create a culture where when you grow up you can still play.

Photo from Parkour Visions

OP: One of the things that caught my eye was the parks that Parkour Visions helps design. Tell us more about the parkour parks that you've designed and what's been the community's reaction to the parks? CH: It's funny because the parks actually started in Europe and there are a lot more parkour parks there than here. Some of that is just the way governments are set up. Sweden for example has the most parkour parks in Europe. There was actually a negative initial reaction to the parks, especially in Europe because some people thought the idea of parkour was to take your environment anyway it is and turn it into your playground. So there was this look at whether or not we wanted parks or not. Does the park aspect take away that perspective of going around your neighborhood to find stuff. But I do think that it has evolved especially as parkour gyms began to happen because gyms are basically indoor parks. In 2017 Parkour Visions lost our gym due to permitting issues, so we ended up going outside and getting back to our roots. We looked meaningfully at how gyms and parks fit into that. The downfall of a gym is that it becomes a pay to play model. At the time it helped validate the sport, but now that there are other gyms out there we shifted to helping involve more people. Gyms and parkour parks do create a safe space and validate the sport, but the end goal is to have a whole society that plays. I see parks as a stepping stone. The goal is to create more playable spaces and normalize it.

Photo from Parkour Visions

OP: What would you say is one of the most common misconceptions about parkour? CH: That parkour is not inviting to people. People look at the high level things and think, "I could never do that!" Parkour is really about progressions with a coach or discovering it through yourself. I believe that most people could learn to do a backflip regardless of their age. People also think that it isn't inclusive of disabled people when it really is about what your body can do. OP: How did you first get involved with the non-profit? CH: I started by taking classes and participating and then I became a coach there. I actually left Seattle and took a job at a gym in Colorado for a while and then moved to San Diego and met my husband who also does parkour. We road tripped back to Seattle and I started coaching again and we ended up moving back there. I got involved again right as we were losing our gym in 2017 and became the Program Director, overseeing our coaches and classes. A little while later our Executive Director stepped down and became the board president so I took the Executive Director role. OP: What is your goal for Parkour Visions? CH: Our goal is to help people move through barriers through movement and play. Barriers can be physical, experiential or societal. For myself I really want to push myself as a female-bodied athlete. I want to push what female-bodied people can do. I think there will always be some gender gap, but it is really wide right now. People growing up as females don't tend to get as many outdoor opportunities. There are also barriers of access that we are working on. All of our adult classes are free. Our parks are another example of how we create free safe spaces for people to play. Our curriculum is also not just about people moving, but being empowered to live their own life. So we teach leadership skills in our youth classes and encourage projects and collaboration. OP: How do you see parkour continuing to grow? Do you see it becoming as popular as other outdoor sports like rock climbing or hiking? CH: Absolutely. People who have been doing parkour for a long time have been having conversations about what we want parkour to be. We had to determine if things like gyms or free running or gymnastics are parkour. My vision is for parkour to become popular like running. Running used to be a very small and gendered thing where it wasn't acceptable for a woman to run. I think that practicing parkour outside has had a similar attitude about it. I want parkour to be something that people see happening and don't think twice about it. As we're talking about normalizing parkour and play in general, there is a very real barrier for people with this idea of "athletic" people. You go to a rock climbing gym and you're going to see mostly "athletic" people. So how do we include people who have lost touch with their body or don't see themselves as "athletic." How do we include people that may be embarrassed to try? This is a topic that I want to talk about in one of our parkour conferences.

Photo from Parkour Visions

We are extremely grateful to Cordelia for taking time to do this interview. If you are in the Seattle area or are interested in learning more about parkour, check out Parkour Visions and Cordelia's Instagram! They are doing some great work and bringing parkour into the lives of many people. Parkour is a great way for people to be active and have some fun with the things that are around you. Parkour is one of the activities supported on the outdoorpals app, so check it out if you're looking for some new parkour buddies!