For Ahmad Matar and his teammates, starting a Parkour Academy in Gaza was merely a dream. Now, he and his partner Tom Vaillant have made it a reality. Here’s everything you need to know about “Wallrunners”.
Matar’s Journey with Parkour
Ahmad Matar is a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip, a Gaza Parkour team member, and a co-founder of “Wallrunners”, the first Parkour academy in Palestine. He moved to Sweden 4 years ago after participating in the Parkour world championship. After getting an opportunity to work as a Parkour coach, Ahmad decided to stay in Swedan to escape the hardships that came with living in Gaza, only dreaming of one day starting a Parkour academy in his hometown.
Ahmad describes Parkour as “a sport where athletes jump over obstacles they face, be it a wall or a problem they face in life.”
He continued “Parkour is the place where I found my freedom, it’s strange to say that while living in a city that is not free. But with Parkour, I feel free. While training I forget everything happening around me and only focus on becoming good at what I do. Parkour taught me to be determined in life, to try as many times as possible to fulfil my goals, just like I have to try many times until I get a jump right.”
Parkour began in Gaza a decade ago in Khan Yunis refugee camp. It was when Mohammed Aljakhabir and Abdallah Inshasi watched the Parkour documentary “Jump London”. Together, Mohammad, Abdallah, and Ahmad developed tricks to practice on the walls of the city. Ahmad says “there was no shortage of damaged buildings to explore”. After inviting other athletes to join them, the team started to grow, and Gaza Parkour came to life.
After years of training in the streets and in cemeteries, they started getting invited to international competitions. They overcame many obstacles (both literally and metaphorically) in making their way internationally.
The most severe of those obstacles had to do with acquiring visas which they have to get from both the destination country and from Egypt where they travel from.
At the beginning, Parkour wasn’t very popular in Gaza. “People thought we were trying to steal or kill ourselves by training. Social media helped us share our videos and we started receiving media attention so people started to believe in what we do” said Ahmad.
Now, with the opening of Wallrunners and after the prominence of Gaza Parkour, Parkour is very popular in Gaza. Particularly, among people between the ages of 6 and 30.
Ahmad says a major part of its popularity among children is that it makes them feel like they can fly.
The Birth of Wallrunners
Ahmad met Tom Vaillant in Sweden, he first approached Ahmad to film the documentary “Wallrunners of Gaza” telling Gaza Parkour’s story. Ahmad never thought that it would be Tom who would help make his dream of a Parkour Academy in Gaza a reality. After discussing the idea of the academy together, Tom suggested the name “Wallrunners” and came up with the academy’s logo. With some help from the team and support from Parkour fans, “Wallrunners” came to life.
They faced many challenges to turn this dream into a reality. They needed a location, and a sponsor who could fund the project; the equipment, the rent, and the coaches. Initially, they created an online fundraiser. As a result, they were able to get the school running for 4 months free of charge for all Gaza kids and youth.
After overcoming the funding problem, they could not find all the equipment they needed in Gaza. They also couldn’t have any equipment shipped. So, they filled the gym with materials they found in the local market! Their most recent challenge has been the Coronavirus pandemic which slowed down the process for many months both in Europe and in Gaza.
Although as Ahmad stated:
“Parkour is a sport you can play anywhere, even the street!”
Currently, the academy is operating at the well-equipped and safe “Beach Center”, a sports club in Gaza.
Ahmad and his teammates plan on starting a crowdfunding campaign mid-January, this time on Kickstarter, with a duration of 5 weeks. They want to reach the entirety of the Parkour community through schools, NGOs, and influencers. For the long-term, Ahmad aspires to take “Wallrunners” from Gaza to the rest of the world; he plans to set up Parkour schools in many different countries.
The Message Behind “Wallrunners”
When asked what message he would like to send to the world about Parkour and about Gaza, Ahmad said, “I want to tell the world that the kids and youth of Gaza have the right to live free and happy and they have the right to play the sport they love in a safe place. We want the people to know about the academy and what we do so they’ll help us keep the Parkour academy going for kids in Gaza.”
Such words certainly inspire us to jump through the hoops life throws at us. You can donate to help Wallrunners stay inspirational here. Follow them on their website, on Instagram, and Facebook to stay up to date about their News.