SINGAPORE: Just over two months ago, 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.
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 has helped the senior citizen 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," she said.
Tham, who is the oldest student training with Move Academy Singapore, discovered the sport after a chance encounter with a trainer from the centre in November (2017) in a foodcourt.
Speaking to The Straits Times after a training session on Jan 19, she said in Mandarin: "He was queuing in front of me and ordered a really big bowl of noodles. I thought it was strange. How can this skinny guy, who looks so gentle and fair, eat so much?"
She approached Tan Shie Boon, 25, who told her about the sport and showed her videos of their practice sessions.
"I asked if he thought it would be beneficial for me, and that's when he invited me to try it out the next day," said Tham who before taking up parkour, rarely exercised and would often lose her balance while walking.
Said Tan, 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 very open minded and was willing to give it a try."
Another of Tan's students who is breaking the stereotype is his own mother, retired teacher, Kimm Chai.
The 58-year-old, who does taiqi regularly, picked up the sport in September last year (2017) after Tan showed her some parkour techniques.
"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 Chai.
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.
"It is rare for people their age to try parkour. They are from the category of people who are supposed to be the most afraid of this sport, but they have the courage and willingness to give it a shot," said Tan.
When coaching older people, Tan 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, hopes that people will learn the "true meaning" of parkour through Tham and Chai.
"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," said the undergraduate.
However, older people who want to learn parkour have to keep in mind that it is a high-risk sport, said Michael Yan clinical director at Balance Core Physiotherapy Centre.
"A fall is more serious for an older person because their bones are more brittle and ligaments tend to be susceptible to injury as well."
But Yan also said the basic movements of parkour provides functional training, which helps improve strength, stability and mobility for daily activities and is especially beneficial for the elderly.
"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." –The Straits Times/Asia News Network