Nick Faircloth has learned some of his best problem-solving skills while on the UNC Charlotte campus, even though he's never been a student there.
As a traceur, a freerunner whose goal is to negotiate physical obstacles in a path as quickly and efficiently as possible, Faircloth, 19, of Huntersville, regularly meets with a dozen or so other guys to study the brick walls, steep stairs and other architectural features on campus before scaling, leaping and vaulting over them.
He, as well as other members of Charlotte Parkour, the 70-member group of freerunning enthusiasts known as traceurs, say the discipline teaches some of life's most valuable lessons, like negotiating obstacles, both physical and mental.
"It helps increase problem-solving capacity, like what a chess player would notice," said Faircloth.
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Ian Garner, 26, of Harrisburg, agrees. He once spent 30 minutes examining the length and height of a large gap between two concrete planters on campus." We actually didn't make an attempt at it until we dissected it," said Garner, who eventually went on to successfully leap from one planter to the other with ease. "Much of parkour is done just like that."
That kind of logic, said Steven Erdmanczyk Jr., 25, a computer programmer in University City, jumps over into the real world.
"It clears your head. You see how your thought process changes," said Erdmanczyk Jr. "You start seeing other obstacles in life the same way."
Parkour, the most commonly known name for the discipline of freerunning, originated in France and has gained popularity in the Unites States. It is most often seen on college campuses or in urban settings.
N.C. State and Duke universities have parkour clubs, and although it is not officially affiliated with UNC Charlotte, Charlotte Parkour has met on the UNCC campus since 2005. Many of its members met through NCParkour.com, a website that links traceurs from all over the state.
With its mix of buildings, stairs, walls and unique architectural features, campus settings are ideal places to train, said Faircloth. "There are some good spots downtown, but you have to walk anywhere between three and six blocks to get between them," he said." At UNCC, everything is right there. You can train almost anything you want at UNCC."
Traceurs are not always welcomed by spectators unfamiliar with what they're doing, and the campus also provides a relatively hassle-free place for them to practice. "We're on pretty good terms with the security," he said.
"You get a lot of people that are personally offended by it, because they've never seen it before and they don't understand why," said Faircloth, who was chastised recently by a person for leaping over a park bench.
What may seem dangerous or risky to outsiders appears almost relaxing to Traceurs. Their movements sometimes seem as fluid and effortless as water washing over the large jagged rocks along a stream's bed.
"I'm a type A personality, so I have a lot of stress," said Garner, 26, who studies biomedical equipment technology at Stanley Community College and has seen his stress level sink to a new low since beginning parkour.
"It makes a person look at problems differently," he said. "I can scale up an 11-foot wall. Why is this insignificant thing causing a problem?"