QUINCY -- David Boden-Shackleton has built a life around vaulting over obstacles and clearing large gaps in a way that would steal the breath from most people.
The 27-year-old Payson native recently moved back after a stint in Colorado during which he coached at a parkour gym. Parkour is the sport of moving along a given route, through various obstacles, in the quickest and most efficient manner possible. Boden-Shackleton wants to raise a parkour community in Quincy like the one he immersed himself in while living in Denver.
Testing the waters
Boden-Shackleton was an aimless youth. School bored him, and at one point, he almost failed out, because he would have rather been outside or playing video games. He played a lot of Halo, but a game called Mirror's Edge, which featured a slightly exaggerated yet still realistic version of parkour, introduced him to the sport that became his sole focus.
"Part of me always wanted to be an athlete," he said. "I like the idea of feeling liberated as an individual and challenging myself."
Team sports never really clicked for him, but the artistic exploration of parkour appealed more to his creative nature. The practice has changed his perspective on the world. He sizes up everything he sees as a potential obstacle he could vault over or a drop or gap he could clear.
The first move he ever attempted was a kong vault, when a person uses their hands to propel themselves over an obstacle, over the rail of his high school. He clipped his toes that first time, forcing him down on the concrete face-first.
"It was terrifying, but I just kept trying," he said. "When you're self-taught, you tend to reach for the stars too fast. There's a lot of trial and error and bumps and scrapes and bruises, but you pick yourself back up."
After graduating from high school, he had no real goals in mind, other than to pursue a passion.
"I went through an odd period," he said, "trying to figure the world out."
Going all in
Once he became stronger and more proficient in parkour, he decided to test Quincy's interest and host a training event, inviting people from surrounding areas to come train. During the event, he met a body modification enthusiast with scarification designs and pointed elf ears who was talented in parkour and lived in Kansas City.
"He said there was a community out there, about 20 people or so," Boden-Shackleton said. "I knew where I was going."
Without any money or prospects, he moved in with a friend in Kansas City to be closer to the niche community of parkour athletes. Taking up residence in an overcrowded home of six adults, three children and 10 dogs, that was funded largely by welfare, he subsisted entirely on ramen noodles while living in the new city.
"You get a bowl of ramen a day, clean the maggots off the floor in the kitchen, and you walk anywhere you need to go," he said. "I used to train 10 hours a day when I was living in that situation."
Going from growing up in a middle class home in Payson to living in the most dangerous neighborhood in Kansas City was a stark contrast. He made it seven months before calling it quits and returning to Quincy.
"It gave me a little bit more of an appreciation for the privileges I've been given in life," he said. "I don't want to squander them, but to use them to the best of my ability."
He came back emaciated and 20 pounds underweight and took a part-time job at Hobby Lobby, but kept jumping on stuff.
On his 20th birthday, he loaded up with his body mod friend and two other carloads of other parkour fanatics to attend his first parkour jam in Washington, D.C. He found hundreds of people who did parkour -- full parks of people running around, jumping on things and climbing trees.
"From that I decided to start traveling more and really start doing this," he said, "going to jams across the country."
As he began to forge deeper relationships in the parkour community, he met someone who offered him a place to stay in St. Louis. He lived in St. Louis for one year, and during that time, he reconnected with Jess, a woman he had met through parkour. The two married last October.
In St. Louis, he started to flourish in his abilities as a parkour athlete, and began to see the potential of actually turning it into a career.
"My training was really taking off," he said, "and I was on the precipice of going all in."
Sharing his knowledge
On the last day of a jam in Denver, Boden-Shackleton helped a man who was struggling with a difficult bar move. The man, who happened to own a parkour gym in Denver, offered him a job as a parkour coach. Not wanting to let the opportunity slip by, the couple decided, on a whim, to drop everything and move out there.
"I asked her, and she said, 'We're young, let's just go,' " he said. "That's when I realized she was the one for me."
After six months at that gym, he became certified with Apex School of Movement, the largest parkour gym company in the world and spent the next two years teaching out of their Denver gym.
"Those were the best two years of my life," he said. "Being able to pass what you love onto someone else and help them to find their own path is the most rewarding thing I've ever done."
In a given week at Apex, he coached close to 100 students. The gym generally had between 400 and 500 weekly client check-ins.
He starts at the absolute basics with his students, teaching them first to crawl properly before moving into rolls and landings. The progression gradually builds until students learn to climb walls and do backflips.
"A lot of people see the sensational YouTube videos, but that's not what it is," he said. "There are programs for 80-year-old people. It teaches you a lot about your body, and I think, it just makes people happier."
Boden-Shackleton and Jess recently moved back to the area to be closer to family.
"Leaving Denver was probably one of the most difficult things I've done in my life," he said. "I had my going-away party, and there were 60-plus people there, all of which I had a meaningful relationship with. The parkour community has a great way of bringing people together."
There are only a few other parkour enthusiasts in Quincy, but he hopes to build a community here by educating people on what parkour is. He wants people to look at parkour as an entertaining way of getting in shape and staying active.
He is reaching out to other fitness companies in the area with facilities in hopes of establishing a partnership and eventually being able to hold special classes where people can try parkour for free.
"My five-year goal is to open a parkour gym here in Quincy," he said. "The first step is building curiosity."