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A light pole next to a flowerbed may seem insignificant to the average pedestrian strolling down the sidewalk, but to 16-year-old Kent Johns, these objects present endless possibilities.

"The world is our playground," he said.

Parkour, the art of overcoming obstacles through movement, has gripped a group of Missoula teenagers who have taken to flipping, vaulting, climbing and swinging on objects all over town. Their passion for parkour has them moving from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible.

The ninjalike, noncompetitive activity is thought to have originated in France in the 1980s - used by French soldiers to move quickly from place to place.

In Missoula, parkour first took the stage in 2008 thanks to two Hellgate High School students.

Several years ago, out of boredom, Johns and friend Michael Graef created an obstacle course in Graef's basement. A short time later, Graef's dad came across a YouTube video that slightly resembled what the boy had been trying to accomplish.

The video was of parkour founder David Belle executing "mad skills," according to the teens.

On a recent day on the University of Montana campus, the sport brought together a ski racer, a middle-schooler, a martial arts student, a basketball player and a video gamer - an eclectic group, for sure. Most have never participated in high school sports. Yet, they leapt between railings and tumbled over concrete outside the Adams Center, displaying highly technical and physically demanding athletic skills.

Through the years, about 60 people have come to check out what the Missoula Parkour Group is all about, and around 15 teenagers have kept coming back.

And interest continues to grow.

There are now two classes at Mismo Gymnastics for people interested in parkour to learn how to flip and tumble. This summer, Johns and Graef held a parkour camp for people of all ages. They launched a website, keep a blog and sell printed T-shirts. Practices are year round - yes, even in January.


The teens insist that parkour is for anyone.

"You could be 50 pounds overweight as long as you're dedicated," Graef said.

The teens watched online videos and read online tutorials to learn the basic movements and their names. Now, Johns and Graef, both age 16, show a wisdom beyond their years when talking about parkour, respecting the environment they move through and how safety is their No. 1 priority.

"You don't go for the most insane things," Johns said. "You know your limits. It's all about small, steady progress."

That means knowing how far you can jump and working up to that next level. It's for that reason there have been few injuries over the years, even though these teens are flipping over rails and leaping cement walls, apparently with little effort.

"I was looking for years for anybody," said Corey Gransberry, a 31-year-old graphic designer in Butte who has been practicing parkour all his life. "I would go out by myself."

Google searches of parkour and (fill in the blank of a Montana city) turned up nothing. Then, a year and a half later, Gransberry - who started a statewide parkour website - came across the Missoula Parkour Group.

"They just inspired me to keep going and be more passionate about it," he said. "The progression of their abilities in a year's time was unbelievable. They are just young kids, but they're very organized and well mannered. They impress me."


Amzi Jeffs, 16, was playing "Assassin's Creed," a video game set in medieval times that uses parkour, and remembers thinking he would like to make those moves himself. Then he met Graef and Johns, and the rest is history.

"It's fun to do crazy flips," he said.

Sometimes those crazy flips are misinterpreted.

"You see a bunch of young kids climbing on stuff and your initial reaction is that those kids are mischievous," Gransberry said.

There have been times when they've been kicked off property or had security called on them. They'll politely leave - just for the day. What the casual observer doesn't realize is that the whole point of parkour is personal growth, working within one's ability and incrementally moving toward a goal.

"As long as we don't do anything stupid, (our parents) trust us," Johns said. "They trust me not to break my bones."

Boosting self-confidence and self-esteem is an added bonus of parkour. No longer do these teens hesitate in life. No matter whether it comes to ordering off a menu or deciding what route to walk to school, all say they react quicker.

Mark Fullerton, 16, a point guard on the Hellgate basketball team, says it's helped him read the court and not hesitate when calling a play.

Parkour builds a "skillset that works with all obstacles in life," Gransberry said.

But the best added benefit is the close friendships that have grown out of climbing on and jumping off cement structures.

"It created a family," Johns said.

Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at Megan Gibson is a University of Montana journalism student who interned at the Missoulian this summer.


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