Arlene Advocat used to watch in awe videos of people doing parkour, a sport known for its gravity-defying jumps from city buildings.
But never at the time did she consider that she, at the age of 82, would be able to try it for herself.
Arlene Advocat practises parkour in the Kings Domain with the assistance of coach Kel Glaister. Credit:Chris Hopkins
“It was fascinating to me, it looked so beautiful,” Ms Advocat says. “I even watched a class on Southbank and I thought, ‘I can’t do that’. It was all young people.”
That changed with her discovery that senior parkour classes were available in the US, prompting the West Footscray woman to ask local trainer Kel Glaister, of Melbourne in Motion, to start teaching her last year.
Ms Glaister now offers two mature classes a week, with Ms Advocat attending since they were introduced in November, balancing on rails and surmounting low walls and benches at the Kings Domain gardens.
Ms Glaister says when you set aside any preconceived “adrenaline-junkie” notions of parkour, it becomes evident that the training would benefit older people due to its focus on minimising impact, strengthening muscles and joints, and building balance on various terrains.
I would sign up to a lot of senior exercise classes, I would go a couple of times and it would be so boring, I would just stop going.
“We developed a way to do the exact sort of training we do but at a different level of intensity, and things that are relevant to older people are emphasised in the classes, things like improving balance or improving the ability to manage a fall as well as keeping strong and agile as you age,” Ms Glaister says.
“Everything we do can be scaled to any level of ability.”
She points to Ms Advocat, who has already learned various parkour "vaults", which are techniques for passing over obstacles.
“As people age they’re often treated as fragile and breakable … [and] considered to be less able to explore and try new things like parkour and that’s absolutely not true,” Ms Glaister says.
Arlene Advocat says other types of senior exercise was too “boring”.Credit:Chris Hopkins
Ms Advocat says she feels in safe hands, with movements modified and slowed as much as needed. Above all, she says parkour does not feel like the chore that other workouts did.
“I would sign up to a lot of senior exercise classes, I would go a couple of times and it would be so boring, I would just stop going,” she says.
“I love [parkour] because of the simplicity of the fact you’re outside and you’re doing things you might need to do one day… It always feels good. I’m always tired afterwards and I feel like I’ve done something good for my body.”
Ms Advocat enjoys applying what she’s learnt to her everyday life, whether when walking up and down stairs or strolling through the city, and it helps her to prevent a fall.
“It helps me to think about where I’m putting my weight, I’m conscious of my posture and balance,” she says.
“I don’t want to be an old lady shuffling slowly, I want confidence.”
Ms Glaister isn’t putting age limits on the mature classes so that people can self-select.
“They’re basically for anyone who would feel more comfortable in that environment.”
Mr Advocat says she feels “invigorated”, and enjoys that she is challenging parkour’s young daredevil reputation.
“I look at those young people and I think it’s great, I wish I could do that, but it’s too late now so who cares? I just do my best and I hope I get stronger and better,” she says.
As for the hair-rising jumps from buildings? “I don’t need that to have fun.”
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