Meet the parkour aunties

Just over two months ago, Ms Ann Tham, 64, needed the help of a trolley cart to keep her balance and move around. Now she walks unaided. All thanks to the sport of parkour.

The retired graphic designer practises twice a week in Bishan by twisting through railings, balancing off edges and rolling on the ground.

Ms Tham's moves are slower and less nimble than the bold flips and dives that characterise the sport.

But she said the balancing motions and simple core strength-training that form the basics of parkour have helped her regain her balance and confidence. "I used to get anxious in crowds because I thought I would lose my balance and fall, but I've also overcome that fear."

Ms Tham, who is the oldest student training with Move Academy Singapore, discovered the sport after a chance encounter with a trainer from the centre last November. Speaking to The Sunday Times after a training session, she said she approached Mr Tan Shie Boon, who told her about the sport and invited her to try it out.

Said Mr Tan, 25, a full-time coach with Move Academy: "People are usually quite averse to parkour. They think it's dangerous, that it's only for youngsters. But Ann was willing to give it a try."

Another of Mr Tan's students who is breaking the stereotype is his own mother, retired teacher Kimm Chai. The 58-year-old, who does taiji regularly, picked up the sport last year. "It wasn't as dangerous as I thought it was. In fact, the sport teaches you to protect yourself from injuries if you fall," said Madam Chai.

Mr Tan hopes that when people see how his mother and Ms Tham have benefited from parkour, it will help change public perceptions of the sport.

When coaching older people, he is careful to understand their physical limits. "I have to be cautious not to go over the limits and also break down even the most basic moves to even simpler ones."

President of Parkour Singapore Nyan Lin Cho, 23, said: "It's not about the difficulty of the jumps or moves, rather it's about self-improvement. Hopefully, this will encourage more people to take up parkour."

However, older people have to keep in mind that it is a high-risk sport, said Mr Michael Yan, clinical director at Balance Core Physiotherapy Centre. "A fall is more serious for an older person because his bones are more brittle and ligaments tend to be susceptible to injury as well."

But Mr Yan said the basic movements of parkour provide functional training, which helps improve strength, stability and mobility. "Age shouldn't bar older people from trying out parkour. But they should seek the advice of a doctor or a coach before they start. If they're reasonably fit, the entry-level exercises of parkour can prove to be helpful."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 28, 2018, with the headline 'Meet the parkour aunties'. Subscribe