Christopher McDougall (author of Born To Run) meets Shirley Darlington, and the women ruling the London streets on Thursday evenings.
“…she keeps guys away because the biggest threat to Parkour – as even Parkour’s all-male founders would agree – is testosterone.”
Christopher McDougall has ‘come to parkour by accident.’ He’s chasing down the stories of WW2 resistance fighters; their strength, endurance, agility, and, seemingly, their spirit. Their bounce. And that’s what’s brought him to Parkour. To a women’s outdoor class, to be precise. One led by Shirley Darlington…
Once you learn Parkour’s basic moves, I’d been told, the world around you changes. You don’t see things anymore – you see movement. Maybe if I got some Parkour under my belt, the tumbled boulders on a Mediterranean island would transform from stuff in the way, into stuff to bounce off.
– Christopher McDougal
On this Thursday evening, Shirley leads me and 40 or so women off at a jog, arriving about half a mile later at a cement courtyard in the middle of a high-rise housing estate.
Shirley has us line up at the top of a long, zigzagging access ramp and drop to all fours. We monkey-walk on hands and feet about 40 yards to the bottom, then bunny-hop up the stairs and do it again backwards, then crab style, then squat-hopping, each time with a new twist and a push-up between circuits.
By the 13th loop, my hands are cement-scuffed and my head is spinning from being at knee-height for so long, but the parade of hopping, bear-crawling, push-upping women shows no sign of slowing.
I look around for Shirley, but she’s disappeared into our midst. “The best Parkour coaches are invisible,” Dan tells me. “They get you started, then get out of the way.”
I spot her again when three men take a seat on the wall and begin sharing a smoke and loud comments on the women’s bodies. Shirley quietly peels off from the circuit and trots over to a swing set. She leaps for the crossbar, and in a blur somehow ends up squatting on top. She lowers herself from the bar with such slow grace and power that the three mopes on the wall shove their cigarettes in their mouths so their hands are free to applaud.