I Am Mighty

I have one more top-out to do, and then I’ll head home. A top-out consists of running top speed at a concrete wall, and as you approach the wall, bounding upward to plant the toes of one foot on the wall about hip height, pushing upward further and planting the second foot even higher, then grabbing the edge of the top of the wall and using the momentum you’ve already created to hoist your body upward, until your torso is above the wall, and your arms are straight, palms flat, supporting the weight of your body. You then ease yourself slowly down the wall to dismount.

Although I am a 34yo woman with three children, I am normally doing this workout with a large group of young men ages 16 – 22. The discipline we practice is called parkour, and I am co-owner and founder of the only parkour academy in Houston, TX. I’m going to be out of town for our next group training, so I’m in the middle of downtown, along the bayou in the theater district, practicing alone. This spot in particular is great for parkour. There are bollards to jump onto and from, concrete walls of varying heights, metal railings for balance, and other structures with edges, platforms, and elevation that lend themselves to jumping, crawling, hanging, and traversing. It’s a Sunday evening in late spring, so there aren’t many people around. Just me, a few folks who live under the bridge, and the occasional cyclist whizzing by.

I’m done, so I stretch a bit, then start my walk up to the overpass that the bayou runs under. It’s dusk, so I’ll start jogging the mile and a half home when I get up there. I haven’t brought anything with me except for my phone. While I’m walking, I take it out to see what text messages I’ve missed.

“That’s a real nice phone you got.” I can tell from his voice that he’s about ten feet behind me, and I can hear an overly confident swagger in his steps. He’s tall because he takes one step for every two of mine. He will catch up to me in no time. I slide my phone into the wrist wallet I wear when I workout.

“Hey, little mama. Won’t you let me take a look at that phone?” He’s not as close as I thought he would be by now, still about eight feet back. I am doing this next thing before my mind even discusses it with my body. It’s as if I’m not in control. I turn toward him, with my head high and shoulders back. I’m looking him in the eye and walking straight toward him – almost running, but not quite. I memorize his stringy blonde hair and green eyes, the whites webbed with red, without stopping. I don’t say anything, I don’t have to. He begins to back up, saying, “Whoa whoa whoa!! Hey hey! Whoa! I don’t… I didn’t… Hey!” Just as I am about a foot away from him, he turns and runs, almost tripping over the hem of his sagging jeans.

I stand where I am and watch him. I am in the middle of the bridge that goes over the bayou. It has whimsical, wave-like railings painted blue to mimic the ocean because the aquarium is nearby. I stand there, in the fake waves, watching until he turns the corner around a skyscraper. I hold for just a little bit longer, reluctant to turn my back.

When I finally turn, I find myself sprinting with a lightness I’ve never felt. My heart is racing and involuntary tears are releasing themselves, trying to stream down my face, but I’m running so fast they don’t get past my cheekbones before they dry. I have gleaned enough power in this chance confrontation to carry me through the next several harrowing decisions over years of my life. I will be told repeatedly, when I tell this story to others, that I was being stupid. What if he had a gun? What if he had a knife? What if, what if, what if… What if I hadn’t done what I did? Maybe he would’ve just taken my phone. Maybe I would’ve ended up face down, floating down the bayou. All of the what-ifs mean nothing because in that moment, I was mighty.

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