At ROAM Further Athletics in Mt. Kisco, parkour enthusiasts find their flow
In 2004, Joe Cannato saw a documentary called “Jump London” that forever changed his life. In it, three French “tracuers,” or free runners, run and jump around London’s most famous landmarks. They are not on skateboards or bicycles. They are not passing or shooting a ball. But they are moving with grace, ease and agility. They are creative, artistic and free.
18-year-old Cannato was hooked.
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It’s been nearly two decades since Cannato first discovered free running. Today, he owns and manages ROAM Further, a new parkour gym in Mount Kisco that offers parkour, ninja warrior and obstacle training for youth and adults.
Parkour, for those without direct experience, can be hard to understand. Isn’t it just a fancy word for walking? Maybe with some jumps and skips thrown in? Cannato insists it’s anything but.
“We talk about it as obstacle-based movement and training,” Cannato said. “Your body is the tool that we use to navigate the world; parkour is the knowledge of how to use it.”
At ROAM, Cannato and the team work with participants to help them explore both the discipline and art of parkour. Discipline typically comes first. Participants train to improve their strength and efficiency, so that they can accomplish such tasks as scaling a wall or moving from one place to another more easily. Once they’ve mastered some techniques, they can start to employ creativity.
“Maybe you climb a wall and then decide to flip off of it rather than climb down,” Cannato said.
The path to parkour
Cannato spent years perfecting his own parkour discipline and creativity. Seven years after discovering “Jump London,” Cannato, looking to level up on his parkour experience, sought an indoor facility where he could train more regularly. He found Gymnastics and Cheerleading Academy of Fairfield and before long he was an employee, transforming one of their “flips & twists” classes into a parkour class.
Interest grew quickly for Cannato’s parkour classes. He was passionate about building a program that would serve area youth. “If it was going to be taught to kids, I wanted it done right, and done well,” Cannato said.
Meanwhile, Cannato’s personal parkour training was progressing to the point that he earned a spot as a competitor on American Ninja Warrior, a reality TV show in which top athletes tackle challenging obstacle courses. American Ninja Warrior is perhaps best known for its “warped wall,” a 14-foot tall concave wall that contestants try to run to the top of. At ROAM, there are three warped walls of varying heights, to cater to all ages and abilities.
At the Gymnastics and Cheerleading Academy, Cannato pushed for more separation between gymnastics and parkour, to show that parkour could be its own thing. Leadership disagreed and eventually Cannato and the facility parted ways. Cannato left behind a well established parkour program, but took with him the seed of a much bigger idea.
A place for parkour
Leaving GCA gave Cannato the opportunity to think bigger, about how he could make parkour more visible, and to more people. He dreamed of opening up a dedicated parkour facility that would serve as a hub for an inclusive parkour community. “I wanted to create a space that’s comfortable as soon as you walk in. One that brings people together,” Cannato said.
But there was little time to dream. Cannato and his girlfriend had recently gotten engaged; with a wedding to plan, this was no time to be out of work.
Cannato wrote up a business plan for a parkour facility, and began scouting for potential locations and investigating funding options. Through sheer serendipity, he met Scott Kaplan, an investor who happened to be looking for a kids’ entertainment business to invest in. Cannato’s concept held even more appeal to Kaplan. The two joined forces to bring the idea for ROAM to life.
Room to ROAM
Five years after Cannato left GCA, his dream of building a home base for parkour and its constituents became a reality. In early January, ROAM Further opened inside the Grand Prix New York entertainment complex in Mount Kisco. The vast, airy space is filled from floor to ceiling with hand-built obstacles that could pass for modern art. There are three warped walls, one to suit just about every age and ability. The tallest stands around 18 feet and challenges even the most proficient parkour competitor.
Black rubber floors contrast with white walls and blonde wood structures designed to accommodate all manner of horizontal and vertical movements. There’s a trampoline and an air bag for flips, and bars to swing from. But the first thing that catches your eye upon entrance has nothing to do with parkour.
The pour that accompanies the parkour
Who knew that a coffee bar tucked inside a parkour gym tucked inside a go-kart complex could compete for the best coffee in Westchester? At ROAM, barista Nick Cannato is as passionate about coffee as his brother Joe is about parkour. A German grinder machine grinds Italian beans sourced from Stamford, Connecticut’s BonJo roasters. At ROAM's coffee bar and lounge, customers can enjoy a well-crafted cup while watching their children, friends or family members build their parkour skills, grab a cup after class, or just enjoy a unique place to lounge, work or rest.
“You don’t have to decide to do parkour to feel welcome here,” Cannato said. “You could be an onlooker, have coffee, and admire what’s going on.”
“Fitness by accident”
Cannato stressed that anyone can be a parkour athlete. “This is a great outlet for people who maybe don’t fit into traditional sports,” he said. “In traditional competitive sports there’s winning and losing and the idea is to perform well and win those games. There’s value in those experiences, but if you decided that’s not for me, parkour is one of those things that can help.”
The way Cannato sees it, there are too many excuses for people not to move these days. Too many opportunities to sit.
"We naturally want to move," he counters. "We want to play. The end goal is to make it easier and more enjoyable for people to stay active and to move. We call it ‘fitness by accident.’”