Several years ago the world of running experienced a seismic shockwave that was the emergence of barefoot running, which has gone on to spawn the minimalist shoe trend and whole new ideas on running rehab and technique around the world. That movement was largely kickstarted into action by the work of one man – a groundbreaking book titled Born to Run by Chris McDougall.
Trained as a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press, Christopher McDougall covered wars in Rwanda and Angola before writing his international bestseller, Born to Run. His fascination with the limits of human potential led him to create the Outside magazine web series, “Art of the Hero”, and he has now released his second major work in Natural Born Heroes, a work which explores the meaning of natural fitness and heroism through the kidnapping of a German general during the occupation of Crete in WWII and explores examples or natural athleticism such as parkour throughout history.
Chris spent a good amount of time training with Parkour Generations both in the UK and the USA, and it was a pleasure discussing the concepts of movement and mind/body potential found in parkour with a guy who has such a healthy understanding of and appreciation for what we are advocating and teaching, having experienced similar things with the Tarahumara people of northwestern Mexico for his first book. Those discussions expanded and Chris’ interest in parkour grew to the extent that we ended up being featured in the book itself, with a lot of the focus on the early work Francois ‘Forrest’ Mahop and I did with the City of Westminster for their social inclusion programmes and the current work of our own Shirley Darlington, being a leading light in the development of the female parkour community with our SheCanTrace initiative.
And so, when it came time to take this magnum opus on the road, it was a very easy decision to say YES to being a part of the Natural Born Heroes Book Tour and presenting alongside Chris to introduce new audiences to the concepts explored in the book. I joined the tour in New York City on its second night, travelling up and down the East Coast for the next week or so, involving members of our amazing PKGen Americas organisation based in Boston to assist with workshops, displays and Q&A sessions for audiences desperate for more information. Highlights included presenting in a stunning cathedral in central Boston, running movement workshops in Brooklyn, performing an impromptu display on a very small piano and getting scores of runners crawling through the streets at the start of the Boston Marathon.
Also on the tour were Tara Wood, founder of WildFitness, a great organisation that offers ‘rewilding’ holidays for people who want to get back to nature, comedienne Liz Miele demonstrating observational awareness, and Dr Julie Angel, whose films have played a considerable role in raising awareness of the aspects of parkour beyond solely the spectacular. Julie has filmed many of our events and projects over the years, communicating the benefits of parkour to audiences we otherwise would never have been able to reach. Both Julie and Tara brought fantastic elements to the tour and it was a real joy to be part of such a fun unit as we drove, flew and ran around the East Coast of the USA.
The tour would present in a host of different venues, ranging from intimate book shops to running stores, cathedrals, huge theatres and school gyms, each with its own unique character and ambience. This meant that almost every night there was at least one aspect of the show that we had to adapt to the new setting/audience, which seemed perfectly in keeping with the theme of Natural Born Heroes itself – that humans are hugely adaptive, capable, problem-solving creatures by nature and that exposure to adversity on a regular basis is what makes us stronger and better as a people.
Chris took on a huge task with the themes for Natural Born Heroes, covering large amounts of ground and tying everything together around the incredible story of the Cretan resistance during World War II. The story speaks of the true strength of individuals motivated by a need to act and infused with an innate ‘art of the hero’, which allows them to overcome impossible odds and perform a seemingly unbelievable challenge of kidnapping a German general from within his own fortified position and making him reappear in a different country altogether.
This is what a handful of Greek and British resistance fighters on Crete achieved, and the Nazi leaders, when questioned during war tribunals following their defeat, even attributed the stalwart resistance on Crete as being the underlying cause of the German downfall. An incredible, but true, story.
The tour hit the UK mid-May, with a sell-out presentation at Conway Hall in central London, hosted by Vivo Barefoot and Profile Books, both of whom did a fantastic job of creating and managing a highly successful event which also raised a good amount of money for those suffering in Nepal. Added to the mix was the Parkour Generations Performance Team putting on a live display that blew the socks off the audience and set the scene for a magical evening that included the usual antics from Chris such as knife-throwing, proprioception tricks and a regular flow of laughs.
What’s amazed me the most is the huge swell of interest in authentic, natural approaches to health, fitness and physicality among very diverse and wide-ranging demographics and the genuine wide-eyed enthusiasm for what Chris is exploring and what we have been teaching in parkour for many years. We’ve seen it grow across the world, building communities on every continent and seeing parkour grab the limelight wherever it went, and to watch people – young, old, fit, unfit – reconnect with their youthful, playful nature and recapture their own natural born potential is simply inspirational and hugely rewarding.
The Natural Born Heroes Tour hit the West Coast of America in June and returned to the UK in August where it will was linked to our annual epic gathering event, Rendezvous X, at which Chris McDougall ran a special workshop as a guest presenter.
It’s been an absolute blast being a part of the Natural Born Heroes crew, and I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who took part and made it possible, including Tara Wood, Liz Miele, Julie Angel, Andy Keller, Blake Evitt, Adam McClellan, Vivo Barefoot, Profile Books, Mark Esteban, all of the PKGen Team and of course to the legendary Chris McDougall for writing such a superb book and helping to raise awareness of these very important concepts.