Joseph Taylor could jump, put his hands on top of a 5-foot box and lift himself up.
But after the 12-year-old in the Captain America shirt got down he couldn’t hop up on the box again like Andrea Brooks wanted him to.
“You have to keep your foot in the right position,” Brooks said. “You might be able to jump up there on your own strength, but if you don’t have the right form, you won’t be able to get back up.”
Brooks teaches Parkour, an exercise that encourages the mastery of physical techniques to traverse obstacles and move through space quickly and fluidly. Form is as important as execution, she says. How a jump is executed is as important as the fact that it’s executed at all.
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Brooks, 30, aspires to become a role model for young women in North Carolina and beyond.
With process always in mind, Brooks recently decided to change how she accomplishes that goal.
Instead of actively seeking a stuntwoman career in Hollywood, a longtime goal, she wants to stay in the Triangle and inspire others by undertaking charitable endeavors and growing Parkour here.
Brooks, a longtime gymnast and former cheerleader at N.C. State, has flirted with the idea of becoming a stuntwoman in Hollywood for years. But she recently had an epiphany while on a plane back from Los Angeles.
The New Hampshire native remembers asking herself why she wanted to move across the country – away from her family and friends – to pursue a career in Hollywood.
“I thought that I wanted to be in movies because I felt like that’s what girls would look up to,” she said. “But I thought, ‘You know what, I can do that here.’”
The popular coach at Cary Gymnastics plans to shave her head March 28 to raise money for St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a non-profit that raises money to research childhood cancers.
She also promotes See & Do, a project aimed at changing perceptions of women by documenting images of them involved in active sports such as Parkour.
“The parents love her, the kids love her, she’s a remarkable person,” said Jeanne Quaranta, director of Cary Gymnastics. “Whatever she pursues, she drives hard at.”
‘Set in her ways’
Brooks always has wanted to inspire other girls by leading what some might consider an extraordinarily active life, said James Brooks, her father.
As an 8-year-old, she liked to practice with the 12-year-old boys soccer team that her father coached. James Brooks, now a real estate agent who lives in Cary, remembers warning young Andrea that the practices might be too rough for girls.
“I’m not a girl. I’m a person,” he recalled her saying. “Then I would look over and see her doing more push-ups than the boys.”
Andrea can be shy in one-on-one situations, he said, adding, “But if you put her in front of a crowd, she’s a different person.”
Andrea went on to serve as class president while a student at Merrimack High School in New Hampshire, he said, and capped off her time there by going skydiving on her 18th birthday.
“I can’t tell her what to do,” he said “She’s very set in her ways.”
Parkour provides Brooks, a lifelong gymnast, with the perfect mix of structure and adventure.
Developed in France, it gained popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Millions were introduced to it during an opening scene in the 2006 James Bond film, “Casino Royale,” where famous Parkour expert Sébastien Foucan is shown hurdling fences, running up structural beams, climbing pulley wires and sprinting across rooftops.
While the scene is cool, Andrea Brooks said, it’s also a sensationalized example of Parkour and furthers the false stereotype that the sport is for “younger, hyped-up male adrenaline junkies who want to run around doing crazy jumps.”
The sport is closer to gymnastics, but is more free-form and is often practiced in an outdoor urban setting, she said. It requires physical discipline, conditioning and good judgment.
“I have never gone to the hospital because of Parkour,” said Brooks, who started training about five years ago. “Longevity is the goal.”
She has trained in famous Parkour destinations, including Denmark, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Houston, Texas, and Columbus, Ohio. She’s made countless videos of her workouts that she posts on her Instagram account, andrea_is_hungry.
Brooks has taught young girls, teenage boys and adults of nearly every age. She teaches about 60 students a week, Quaranta said.
“She’s rough and tough,” Quaranta said. “The boys love her. She shows them exactly what she wants and talks to them on their level.”
A recent lesson included stretching, crawling, crab-walking, jumping, balancing on a beam and climbing a rope.
“It pushes me in a way that other exercise classes don’t,” said Abby Thirolle, 13-year-old student in Brooks’ class.
That’s why Brooks got into Parkour, too. Because Parkour can be practiced in many environments – indoor and outdoor – the challenges are never-ending, she said.
“Facing my fears in a physical, tangible sense makes me look differently at life’s problems and how I should address them,” Brooks said.
Back in the gym, Taylor tried again and again to follow Brooks’ advice.
He backed up, got a running start and tried to hop on the box the way she asked him to. He could get his palms on top of the 6-foot box, but he couldn’t always lift himself up. He’d kick his bare feet behind him as he tried.
But the more he tried, the harder it got. After about a dozen attempts, Taylor was tired and wanted to move on.
Brooks wouldn’t let him.
“If we avoid something that we’re not good at, how are we gonna get better at it?” she asked him.
She placed a bouncy mat down in front of the box to make the jump a little easier for Taylor, who stands less than 5 feet tall.
He ran across the blue mat, jumped, put his hands on top of the box and lifted himself up. Brooks checked to make sure he had planted his foot in the right place.
“Good job,” she said.
Taylor kept one foot on the side of the box and then slowly let the other drop to the floor. As Brooks held onto him, he pushed off from the floor and leveraged his body to once again elevate his shoulders over the top of the box.
“See!” she said. “That wasn’t so hard! You’re getting the hang of it.”
Even Captain America can use a little help from Wonder Woman.