Where It Started

Kurt completing a running cat leap, with Benoit below ready to spot. At American Rendezvous, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by  Andy Day .

Kurt completing a running cat leap, with Benoit below ready to spot. At American Rendezvous, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Andy Day.

I feel like I was always just kind of floating through my life. When I was much younger my mom had a good job working at Chase downtown for over 30 years. It was her first actual job, so it was all she knew. We (my brother and I) used to get everything that we wanted. We never really got to go on vacations because she was always working, but we always got toys, video games, movies, whatever. We had a lot of stuff. In 2001, Chase laid her off 3 days after Christmas. She was always the kind of person to worry, so she kind of freaked out and it was really hard for her. That alone affected me, but we also were "poor" all of a sudden. We couldn't get anything. I remember my mom telling me from the bottom of the stairs one day shortly after she was let go that we might have to take showers every other day in order to save on the water bill. It hit me hard, and I had no idea what was going to happen. I wanted to cry when she told me that because it was clear she had no idea what to do.

I still consider that point in my life, when my mom lost that job, to be the turning point in my life. That one change in our lives was this powerfully crucial moment that set off a chain reaction, bringing me to where I am now. Once we didn't have money, I started to think more. I started to live more - to find ways of getting by that weren't reliant on material possessions. I played outside as a small child but still always had toys and video games came quite early. So this felt new to me. I wasn't floating through it all anymore. I was more aware of things… more aware of the life going on around me.

Right out of high school I went to work in retail because we couldn't afford to send me to school. We couldn't get financial aid because of the money in my mom's IRA account (which she was saving to live off of for however long she needed to - which ended up being the rest of her life), and I had no way to get to a school anyway (I didn't get a license and a car until 2008). To be honest, I also just had no idea what I wanted to do and because of the way my life had been going, I felt really lost. I had no hope, and I felt that I would just lead a simple life working whatever little jobs I could land to scrape by.

I grew up being told that I was special and I believed it... until I finished high school. I didn't even go to my graduation because we couldn't afford the cap and gown. One of the gym teachers offered to pay for it, but I didn't like the feeling of being the poor kid that someone felt bad for. I honestly wasn't excited to graduate because I had no idea where my life would go from there. On the last day of school, I was walking down the mostly-empty halls and realized how many people I would probably never see or hear from again. People that were friends or acquaintances; those kids that I grew up with my whole life (I've always lived in the town that I'm still in today). There was no ceremony, no goodbyes for me. It was an abrupt end to almost all of those relationships I had had. It was overwhelming. I felt even more lost, and extremely alone. I came back a few days later to pick up my diploma. The halls were still empty. I wondered how long it would take for me to forget what the inside of that school looked like. I stepped out of the doors and was met with a crushing sensation that my life now had no direction.. I had no idea who I was or who I wanted to be. I had no idea who would be there with me or for me. Or if anyone would be.

Ever since those harder teenage years, I had felt like I was alone and that I would always be alone. That I would continue to pass through my life without a feeling of any purpose. That people would come and go throughout my life, but never stay. My dad told my mom he wanted a divorce when I was 7 and, soon after, he left the house. I would see him on some weekends, but he was never really there for me - even before he left. I think my memories of that - the notion that someone who could have been or should have been so important in my life could so easily neglect me and walk away - always stuck around and left me in fear of losing everyone in my life. I thought that for some reason I wasn't good enough or that I would never be important to anyone. Leaving high school so unceremoniously was like a loud reverberation of this.

Fast forward. I have been out of high school for 5 years already. During that time, my mom still hadn't found a good job to replace the one she had at Chase. She was now working at Target as a cashier to supplement the money she'd withdraw annually from the IRA account. She was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and had been told by her doctor initially that she had 6 months to live. I have a lot of haunting and heartbreaking memories from her fight against it. I vividly remember lying in bed asleep one night, waking up to her screaming from the other room. She had been sleeping on the couch instead of her bed for a while; I'm not sure why and I never asked. It was clear to me that she had been lying there awake, probably for hours, thinking about how she was told she has only months to live. She was crying out at the top of her lungs, "I don't want to die". She fought. She went through chemo treatment, had surgery, wore a wig... I remember her crying to me that one of the most disappointing things for her was that she'd lose her hair. She had some good days and bad days. She was still working at Target.

By 2009 I had been working at Circuit City for over 4 years and was still living at home with my mom. The company was going under and closing stores. My store started liquidating in late 2008 and once again I was lost and confused, losing relationships with many people I had known for months or years. My mom helped me get a job at the Target where she worked, in the electronics department. It was nice to see her once in a while at work - that was the first time I started to see my mom interacting with people as this separate person... not just as my mom.

I started getting into Parkour in 2008, but didn’t really start training regularly until 2009. I remember I was editing some really simple video footage I had shot of myself trying to get up a wall when my mom entered the room. She was curious what it was that I was doing in the video. I tried to explain it to her, I have no idea what I told her (I probably had a terrible understanding of what I was doing back then anyway) but I’m sure, her being the worrier that she was, that she didn’t like it.

In 2010 she was having a harder time again and made the decision to stop getting treatment.  She was in the hospital for days. I was working in the electronics area and one of my co-workers came to me with the phone and said "it's for you, it sounds important". I actually have a hard time remembering what happened next. I can't even recall who it was that called me, my brother, an aunt, or my sister... I don't know. They told me that my mom wasn't doing well and that I should head to the hospital right away. I was immediately shaken up and searched for my manager. My managers knew my mom too, of course. I told the manager that I needed to leave to go see my mom. He said okay and I left. I don't remember the drive. I'm pretty sure it was rainy, but I don't remember getting to my car or any of the actual driving to get to the hospital. I don't remember entering the hospital or getting up to her room's floor either. I got to the room in time to see her, but just as the family member on the phone told me, she was not doing well at all. I walked into the room and saw her lying there on the hospital bed, struggling to breathe, gasping strongly but at a slow rhythm. Many of my family members were in the room already. I had been in denial about all of this for years - her fight, the fact that she might not win it, the fact that I would lose this person that had really been the only constant in my whole life. It was my mom. She was permanent. She could never die. Now it was real and undeniable. There she was, eyes closed and clearly taking what would be her last breaths.

She was trying to speak. She was calling out our names (her three kids). She wanted to know that we were there with her. Her breaths got harder and harder, and then they stopped. I felt that she was still fighting. Just a week or so before, she was still at Target working at the register. I realized how strong she was to endure everything I saw her go through. They told her 6 months, and she fought through 4 years.

Once she died, I was terrified. Again I was lost, confused, uncertain about my future... we thought that we might lose the house, I didn't know where I'd go or what I'd do or how I was going to get past this time in my life. I felt so alone, maybe the most alone I’d ever felt. My family were there at the hospital but I still felt this way. I left and called someone that was once a close friend - I don't know why I called that person, but I didn't know what else to do. I spoke to her on the phone for a few minutes while crying outside of the hospital in the parking lot. I went back into the hospital, but I didn't really want to stay. I left and drove back to Target to let them know what happened since she was an employee there too. Again, I don't remember going to the car or the drive. I do remember walking into the store. I saw one of my other managers who was always very nice to me. She saw the look on my face, I told her that my mom just died and she walked me to an office in the back room to talk. I started balling again in that office. She was super nice and was trying to help me calm down. I don't really remember how that conversation ended. I don't remember leaving the store, and I have no recollection of where I went or what I did afterwards. It's all incredibly blurry, many missing pieces, like a dream fading away minutes after you wake up.

Fast forward once more. It’s 2012, I’ve been training Parkour regularly for a few years now and had completed the ADAPT Level 1 coaching certification in 2011. It’s summer time, hot as hell in Columbus, Ohio. I’m at an event called American Rendezvous - an annual event put on by Parkour Generations (and Parkour Horizons, back then) that included some of the Yamakasi in the line-up of coaches. The weekend was brutal but I was enjoying it. Then came an optional portion of the weekend - night training on Saturday night. It was scheduled to be two hours long and for some reason, I was under the impression that it was just going to be open training with everyone. I was wrong.

The coaches began to split everyone up into groups. I was put into the advanced group with Tomas again (I had been put into the advanced group for the entire day). We started with a run across a field and then quickly made our way up all three stories of the outside of the staircase of an apartment building. We ran across the upper balcony, made our way down the stairs and continued to run. I don’t remember all the bits in between the more memorable moments. The next thing I remember is coming to another staircase, this one going down. Tomas made a running precision jump from the top landing of the staircase down to the concrete wall of the 2nd landing. He wanted us all to do it. It was quite big for me back then, so I was one of the last guys to go at it. One guy before me fell forward after his feet landed on the wall - which wasn’t good. The wall we were landing on stood about 10 feet off the ground on the other side. Luckily, he broke his fall on someone else that was already down there, so he wasn’t too badly hurt. It was my turn to do the jump. A Yamakasi coach named Benoit was there spotting people at the landing on that wall. Looking at it, I was pretty sure I could make the jump from standing, though it was probably right around my max distance. I was more comfortable with that than running at it though. I stood there and assessed myself and the jump for a while, and finally made my move. I made the jump, got my feet on the wall and even felt pretty good about not falling forward or slipping off. Benoit grabbed me after I landed just to make sure. I was fine there, but I definitely appreciated his spotting!

Next, I remember we ran our way across the enormous parking lot of some kind of mall. I wasn’t much into running (ever), and I was already really having a hard time breathing from all the running we were doing. I ended up at the back of the pack with one other guy and Benoit. He stayed back there with us to make sure we didn’t lose the group, or maybe to make sure that we were okay to go on. He continued to encourage us not to stop, not to give up. We caught up to the group at another staircase, this one was part of a bridge. We ran up and down the stairs several times. On the way down, it was a ramp of concrete. On the way up, we ran up the stairs. We then made our way underneath the bridge to the staircase on the other side. We did more running up and down the stairs.

After we left the stairs, I don’t remember where we headed. I know there was a lot more running. The next part that I can recall was running down an asphalt path, like a bike path, not far from the water. We were behind from the group again, but we saw Tomas stop up ahead and he started to talk to the group. We couldn’t hear what he was saying at all, but all of a sudden the group sprinted away in different directions and tried to hide out of Tomas’ view. We were still making our way to him as he was counting down from 10, but we didn’t quite know what was going on. He finished counting, looked around, and counted up the guys that he could see (we were included). Then it became clear that he had told the group that we would do 10 pushups for each person he spotted. He saw 7 of us. So, completely out of breath, I attempted to complete the 70 pushups with the rest of the group. I don’t know how many I completed, but I am certain it was not 70. We did 10 at a time, but there was barely any break in between the sets. When we were finished with those, Tomas got back up and said we’d go again. He started counting down and we all ran away. I ran as fast as I could, I was NOT going to be one of the people to cause added pushups. I dove into the trees, long grass, and bushes that lined the river we had been following while we were running. I didn’t even know how close the water was or what I’d be landing on. I didn’t even care. I just jumped in as fast as I could. I was wearing a hair band for my then-longer hair. It got caught on a branch when I jumped in and I couldn’t find it. We ended up having more pushups in that second round, though I don’t remember how many it was. I want to say it was around 50.

We continued running. The next scene I remember was a dirt path through a small wooded area. Those white fuzzy cottonwood seeds were floating all around us. I felt like I was inhaling them, making it even harder to breathe. Benoit was still with us (those same two guys in the back, myself and one other). We caught up to the group again (this run was a little shorter) at a small bridge. We were to climb up the side of the bridge and then traverse down the outside of it in a cat hang until we reached the other end. From there, we climbed up and over the rail of the bridge we had been hanging on and met the rest of the group who were all bouncing in a squatting position together. We got down and bounced with them, quads on fire. We were facing down another long asphalt path when Tomas began to explain that we would be crawling to the end of it in standard quadrupedal movement, opposite hand and foot stepping together. The group started making their way down the path, pretty much in a single file line. I was at the back still and I was exhausted but I remember, at least for a little while, feeling better about this than I did about more running. I watched as the front of the group got to the end of the path (I don’t even know how long it was, but it was long). They rounded a wooden post that stood in the grass at the end of the path, and then turned themselves around and continued crawling backwards to head back. I couldn’t believe it. I thought for sure that this one time down the long path was the end of our session. Even so, when I got to the wooden post, I did what everyone else did. I got myself turned around and started crawling. It was fucking hard.

I finally made it back to the beginning, where everyone was once again waiting in a squat and bouncing. I joined them, again. Quads on fire times two.

Tomas started the next challenge. We were heading down the path again. This time, it was with ground kongs. From a squat, reach forward with two hands and place them on the ground. Then push with the legs and pull your body forward with the arms, bringing the feet to just behind the hands (held closely together, where they would fit in between the arms if they went far enough forward). Once more, I watched as the front of the line rounded the wooden post at the end of the path, turned themselves around, and then made their way back the opposite way: reach to the ground with your hands just next to your feet, then a hop of the legs combined with a push of the arms to pop yourself backwards. Push with the arms to get your hands off of the ground and get your weight back onto your feet. I was absolutely exhausted already, having to take very few steps at a time as I was still moving forward. After making it around the wood post, I got down to start my way backwards. I remember that by this time Tomas was already finished, and was now standing off the side of the path and walking next to me, watching as I took just one step at a time.

It was this moment that I broke. Tears started to form in my eyes. All of my muscles were burning. I had had no water this entire time and had been running more than I ever did at any one time in my life. Here was Tomas, standing nearby and watching me go through this. All of this pain came up. It wasn’t just physically hard anymore, it was emotionally hard. It was mentally hard. “Why am I doing this? Why am I here? Why is he making me do this? Why don’t I just give up?”

Remember mom. Remember how strong she was. Remember what she endured. Remember how she fought up until that last moment. Remember how hard she worked her entire life to give you the things you had and have. Remember how she would put others ahead of herself. Remember how strong she was.

This was the hardest thing I had ever put myself through. Here I was, alone as always. Struggling. Fighting. Hurting immensely. But this was nothing compared to what my mom endured. I was in denial that whole time while she was slowly dying. I ignored her. I didn’t know how to talk to her about it. I didn’t want to face that challenge. I couldn’t handle it, I couldn’t see her going through what she was going through. Those last days she spent in the hospital, I avoided visiting her because of this. I was selfish. Here was this amazingly strong woman who spent her entire life trying to provide for me, for us, for everyone she could… she needed me, and I wasn’t there. I was never there. I didn’t help. If I had made an effort, if I had faced that challenge, maybe I could have helped her turn her health around. She was still eating poorly. She didn’t exercise. She was always lonely. Depressed. Hurt. Betrayed. She was me before I found myself in movement. I was not a good son.

I was crying, still pushing myself one step at a time down that never-ending path. Tomas recognized how hard it had gotten for me to keep going. He got down next to me and said “come on, follow me, five steps at a time.” I told him I could barely do one at a time. He insisted that I try. I pushed as hard as I could. Sometimes I would get the five steps, sometimes I wouldn’t. But I was getting to the end. Remember how strong she was.

I got to the other end of the path. I was the last one. Tomas finished the rest of the path with me - it was most of the path. We ran as a group once more, this time to meet up with all of the other groups in a tennis court to cool down and stretch. I still wasn’t able to get water until the stretching was over. We had gone for more than two hours, because when we got to the tennis courts the rest of the groups were already there and already going through the stretches being led.

I will never forget this session. I learned so much about myself and who I am. I learned who I can be and who I want to be. What I want to do for myself, but more importantly what I want to do for others. I want to be there. I want to help. I want to show people their strength. I want to love and not be afraid to care.