Leaping Tall Buildings in a Single Bound
Even mere mortals can master this challenging training
by Steve Zavitz
Photos of Nikki Zanevsky
Nov 22, 2017 | 1029 views | 0 0 comments | 57 57 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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You’ve seen them in commercials: young, super-coordinated, super-fast uber-athletes, jumping from building to building as they navigate the streets and infrastructure of an urban landscape.

Well, there’s a name for it, and just regular folks are doing it, right here in Jersey City.

It’s called Parkour.

One practitioner is Nikki Zanevsky. She’s 32 and has lived in JC for more than six years, arriving by way of Ukraine and New York City.

So, what the heck is Parkour?

“It seems like a simple question,” Zanevsky acknowledges, “but different people define it differently. It’s evolved into how to get from point A to point B with just your body and the environment as efficiently and creatively as possible.”

Eleven years ago a YouTube video turned her on to it. “I watched the video and had a revelation that, yes, I as an adult can do these movements,” she says. “Children like to go out in the playground and jump around, but typically it’s not acceptable for adults in our society.

“Fitness class is fun,” she says, “but it feels like you have to do this exercise to be fit and stay in shape. Parkour has a different motivation. It’s like going out to the playground with a friend.”

The Genesis

Zanevsky started doing Parkour with a group in New York City. Teenage boys and young adults in their 20s and 30s are a prime demographic for Parkour. “But we want to cultivate a community that is more welcoming to all ages, genders, and races,” Zanevsky says.

She envisions an age span from kindergarten to folks in their 60s, the way Zumba and bar classes popularized dance for the average person.

At 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds, Zanevsky has a very athletic build. The bod comes just from Parkour. She does no weight training.

Parkour was invented by a Frenchman who was influenced by the movements in military-style training. It involves crawling, balancing, swinging, jumping, vaulting, and climbing.

“Both urban and natural environments are great for Parkour,” Zanevsky says. “I like training in both, but there is more variability in the natural environment. In the urban environment there are right angles. When you touch a wall, you can predict how it will respond to movement. In nature, with trees and rocks, there is more opportunity to slip. It’s an extra challenge.” In New Jersey, she hikes near the Palisades, which has “great rocks.”

Though Manhattan provides the best urban environment, Zanevsky trains in Hamilton Park and the downtown waterfront in Jersey City.

She and her boyfriend found their way to Jersey City like a lot of folks do. They were looking to buy. “We realized we could afford Jersey City way better than New York,” she relates. “We really liked the neighborhood feel of it and could only afford a box in New York.”

Rules of the Road

“You can train anywhere, in public spaces or private property,” Zanevsky says, “but you always want to be respectful of the environment and leave it how you found it.”

Unlike standard sports, Parkour can be adapted. After trial and error, “I found a training style that works for me,” Zanevsky says. “That’s a testament to the fact that it doesn’t have to be just one thing. You adjust to your ability and comfort level.”

Zanevsky says that a lot of people in their 30s and 40s, and especially women, think they have to go into the gym and get fit before starting Parkour.

“I want to convey that that’s not true,” she says. “You learn Parkour through Parkour. The class is adjusted for beginners. If something seems intimidating, you come to class at your level.”

The male-to-female ratio is improving. When she first started, she was often the only woman in the group. Now 30 to 40 percent are women. “A huge improvement,” she says, “but it varies by communities, which have to foster a comfortable environment.”

Zanevsky’s day job is marketing for an educational company. She sees promoting Parkour as a marketing issue.

“I try to do two things,” she says. “I try to be visible as a woman teaching and doing Parkour in co-ed spaces. And I go out and train by myself, and I want other people, men and women, to normalize the idea.”

A Sport for All Seasons

Zanevsky trains outdoors every season of the year. In fact, she says it’s dangerous to train in a gym where there are soft surfaces. You have to get used to the unpredictability of the outdoor environment.

Two ideas, she says, are relevant to the average person: One is that “you are not doing these moves just because they look cool. It’s awesome to learn to climb a wall so that you can do something for yourself or to help another person.” The other, she says, is that doing Parkour gives you a new view of your world. “You see the urban environment in a whole other dimension,” she says. “A wheelchair ramp is not just a wheelchair ramp, and a wall is not just a wall. It’s more interesting.”

In the summer, Zanevsky went part time at her day job, so that she could explore teaching Parkour classes in Jersey City.

That person crawling, climbing, jumping, vaulting, or swinging through the streets of JC? She could be you.—Kate Rounds.

Nikki is offering a free workshop. Visit for a free class on Nov. 28, You may also email. You may also email and follow @nikkie.zanevsky on Instagram.

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