//Kristine Dietrich practices parkour at the Colorado School of Mines on Nov. 29. Photo by Esteban Fernandez | Este.firstname.lastname@example.org
First, Kristine Dietrich checks her surroundings to ensure the training ground is secure. She knows her bails. If she undershoots a jump, how is she going to react safely? She computes, within reason, all the things that can go wrong and composes a plan. But most importantly, she trusts her body will react the way it’s supposed to.
Dietrich, 29, discovered parkour in 2010. Today, she trains four days a week, averaging two hours per session. She alternates between APEX, the first formal parkour training program in the western hemisphere, and the outdoors as her arena. Due to pandemic restrictions, she’s mostly been the latter this year.
“A lot of girls say there’s no sexism in parkour because they’re choosing not to let it bother them,” Dietrich said. “For me, that’s not really the point. Whether or not [sexism] has an emotional effect on you doesn’t negate whether it exists in the first place.”
The goal of parkour is to get from one point to the other by using the surrounding environment to increase efficiency. The sport has a reputation for being male-dominated and dangerous, but female athletes in Denver like Dietrich have set out to reach more women.
Even though Dietrich has been competing and coaching in the sport for just about a decade, she still gets intimidated when she’s the only woman at a parkour gym.
Outside of parkour, Dietrich is an electrical engineer and works in aerospace at Sierra Nevada Corporations in Louisville.
“Parkour is problem-solving with your body and engineering is problem-solving with your brain,” she said.
Parkour in Denver
Dietrich trains and coaches at APEX Denver. Established in 2006, the parkour gym now has multiple locations throughout Colorado. The co-owner of APEX Denver, Autumn Goodridge, 42, has herself trained under Dietrich when she first joined the team.
“She commands her space within the community, coming from a place of love, positivity and support,” Goodridge said. “When Kristine has something important to say, people listen.”
Goodridge refers to parkour as her movement meditation. After both her children were diagnosed with illnesses, she decided to create a healthier lifestyle for herself and her family. After signing her son up for a class at APEX, she soon found herself running, jumping, climbing and vaulting at the gym.
“When I began, I was in a class of all teenage boys in my 30s. It was a lonely road,” Goodridge said.
Goodridge was forced to stop training for almost two years due to a cancer diagnosis. Despite the break, she wanted to continue to support the gym. She reached out to the founders and became a co-owner to support the growing community in June 2019.
“I would love to see many more girls, young women, and even older women in the sport and getting a fair representation,” Goodridge said. “I am not sure what it will take, but I am happy to see many more men acting as allies and supporting women when they see bullying and harassment on women’s parkour posts. I hope that men continue to vocalize their support so we can stop the cycle.”
A 2016 study revealed 13.8% of parkour practitioners in the United States are women, but according to athletes, like those in the group Women’s Parkour Movement, the number is growing each year.
Every year, WPKM hosts the North American Women’s Parkour Jam. In 2016, it appointed Dietrich to host the event for about 60 women. At the event, conversations surrounding training and sexism were brought up.
“We need to invest in the women’s community for it to grow,” Dietrich said. “It’s a cool time to be in the next generation of female athletes.”
The Next Generation
Melissa McQueen, 46, enrolled her two children in APEX’s youth classes six years ago. After spending six months waiting in the lobby, McQueen signed up for a parkour stretching class offered at the same time. Since then, the sport has become a huge part of her life.
“I refer to the gym as my home-away-from-home,” McQueen said. “When I’m doing parkour, I can’t worry about anything else. It requires all of my focus.”
Dietrich coached McQueen’s 15-year-old son, Connor, and 13-year-old daughter, Megan. At Megan’s last speed competition, she was the only girl competing.
“[She] had no problem stepping up to compete alongside the men,” McQueen said. “A big part of that was the confidence Kristine and her other coaches have built in her.”
McQueen admits the sport is largely male-dominated and said she’s seen female parkour athletes shamed online for being “nothing special.” But she hopes to serve as a role model for her children.
“I look like an outsider in many ways. I’m far older than the average participant, I’m a woman, and I only have two toes because of a frostbite accident,” she said. “It can be very intimidating to enter a gym when you see young men doing such incredible things.”
She credits female coaches at APEX like Dietrich for setting a good example for herself and other females who take on the sport.