I’ve been reading a fascinating book called Natural Born Heroes: Mastering the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance.
Christopher McDougall’s journey begins with a story of remarkable athletic prowess: On the treacherous mountains of Crete, a motley band of World War II Resistance fighters—an artist, a shepherd, and a poet—abducted a German commander from the heart of the Axis occupation. To understand how, McDougall retraces their steps across the island that birthed Herakles and Odysseus, and discovers ancient techniques for endurance, sustenance, and natural movement that have been preserved in unique communities around the world.
His search takes us scrambling over rooftops with a Parkour crew in London, foraging for greens with a ballerina in Brooklyn, tossing heavy pieces of driftwood on a Brazilian beach with the creator of MovNat—and, finally, to our own backyards. Natural Born Heroes will inspire readers to unleash the extraordinary potential of the human body and climb, swim, skip, throw, and jump their way to heroic feats.
Parkour has been on my radar for a while. Not that, pushing mid-60s, I’m not going to be jumping walls and climbing buildings any time soon, but the basic moves seem very practical, especially rolling after dropping a distance (as opposed to tearing your knees apart). It also inspired me to start doing pull-ups again. One of the first things I did when we moved here was install a pull-up bar. It’s been mostly idle.
Not the case 15 years ago in North Carolina, where it hung poolside outside my office door. At one point one of my son’s teenage friends was over and I did 14 in a row for him. Starting out now a few weeks ago, it was three. Now it’s six. And maybe if I keep up at this rate, in six months I’ll be able to do the Parkour essential, but *wow* difficult muscle up: where you grab the bar and end above it, with your arms straight below you. It’s how you can get over a high wall.
Which brings me to Leo.
I met Leo at a Uruguay Phyle meeting in Punta del Este several years ago. Doug Casey was the guest speaker. When I met Leo, I realized I’d seen him in a dream the night before. Kind of weird. As Doug was going on about the irrelevance of environmental awareness, Leo asked him, “So you’re saying ‘Fuck the rain forest’?” “Yeah, fuck the rain forest,” was his reply. Charming guy, that Doug.
But anyway. Fast forward a few years, and a couple guys who build small isopanel houses come by to give an estimate on replacing our casita roof. Leo is one of them. He apparently doesn’t remember me. No big deal. He wants to get a closer look at the roof, from the wall that separates us from our neighbors. I offer to get a ladder I have close by, but in a split second Leo has pulled himself up, and is standing on the top of the wall.
The wall is over 7′ (2.1 m) high.
Impressive feat, but hey, the guy was probably 30 years younger than me.
I had no idea exactly how impressive that was. Now I do, and I know what that move is called, and I get curious about Leo. Does he still do Parkour regularly?
If I ever had his email, that’s long gone, but fortunately he has an uncommon name, and it’s easy to find him online. Fascinating history: born in Holland, school in England, Lamborghini and Ferrari mechanic in Florida, bought a boat and sailed the Caribbean before moving to Uruguay and having a couple of children, the second of whom died very early on of heart complications.
But what happened next, I just learned today.