GALLERY: Gymnastics coach - ‘Freerunning could bring Wisbech together’
ERIK was attempting a flip when he broke his kneecap.
The 15-year-old Latvian freerunner landed on both his knees, shattering his left patella on the concrete. He was in plaster for six months.
“That didn’t put me off,” he said. “It’s not a sport for me, it’s a lifestyle.”
But for gymnastics coach Stewart Harrison, freerunning is neither sport nor lifestyle - it is far more important. It is a way of bringing Wisbech’s different nationalities together.
The 34-year-old has been allowing up to 20 freerunners to use Fenland Gymnastics Academy, in Algores Way, for the last two months.
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They practise their vaults, flips and tumbles in a safe environment - rather than taking to the streets and rooftops of Wisbech.
Stewart said: “It’s called freestyle gymnastics, rather than freerunning, and we advise them not to take it out on the street.
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“If they were outside my house doing backflips then I’d think they were nuisance - but in here they’re not causing any trouble.”
Stewart said that a lot of Wisbech’s freerunners were Eastern European - and the gymnastics sessions could be beneficial for “community cohesion”.
He said: “There is a lot of tension between English people and Eastern European people in Wisbech but when they come here they help each other.
“They walk through the door and it’s a different world for them. This could be brilliant for community cohesion.”
Klaudio, 14, started freerunning with his friends last year - but he also picked up an injury.
He said: “I tried a garage jump into some bushes but my leg came through the bushes and my ankle cracked.
“I came to the gym to learn some new stuff. It’s safer there because of the mats, we can try more things than we can outside.”
Another regular visitor to the gym is 20-year-old Vladimir Voronin, from Latvia. He is the cameraman for Internet hit “Slava P” who has racked up thousands of views on his freerunning YouTube videos.
Vladimir said Slava is now showcasing his urban acrobatics in Mexico, after a group of freerunners invited him to take part in some shows.
His videos are also inspiring other young Eastern Europeans to take up freerunning, which is also known as Parkour.
Erik said: “I’ve been doing it for a year. I got into it through watching videos on the Internet and that inspired me.
“I tried it on the street at first because we didn’t have a gym for about six or seven months.”
Stewart, who has been coaching gymnastics for seven years, is now pleading for funding to help him expand the scheme.
The 34-year-old, who previously ran a gym from his father-in-law’s barn, wants to work with Fenland District Council to find a larger premises.
He is hoping to continue to run sessions for the freerunners as well as his 150 academy members.
He said: “If the council got behind this it could really take off.
“If it’s something we could provide for the benefit of the community we’re more than happy to do it.”
• Freestyle gymnastics sessions cost �4 and take place at the academy on Saturdays from 5-7pm. For more information visit: fenlandgymclub.org.uk