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Chicago is getting its first parkour gym

People who enjoy parkour might seem crazy but they’re not stupid.

Parkour and freerunning are activities that involve running, jumping, climbing, rolling and vaulting pretty much anywhere and everywhere, but usually outdoors. The sports are also considerably more dangerous in the winter, which is partly why a couple of traceurs — parkour practitioners — are committed to opening Aero Academy, Illinois’ first parkour gym.

“A lot of people make mistakes when it’s cold outside, just because they’re freezing and their hands get numb,” says Aero Academy co-founder Mohammed Sultan, a traceur since 2006. “Stuff kind of hurts more when you’re outside when it’s really cold out.”

Chicago’s dominant parkour and freerunning community has more than 800 likes on Facebook, and Sultan estimates that there are several hundred active practitioners in the city.

Though there are a few places for indoor parkour, including gyms in Forest Park, Grayslake and Wheeling, there’s no place where parkour and freerunning are the core mechanics of the gym. “[Other gyms] kind of put parkour classes in there as an afterthought,” Sultan says, “just because they thought it would be a cool little gimmick to get a couple of extra people in.”

Aero Academy will have course routes with climbing walls, vault boxes, rails, trampolines, spring floors and other obstacles for runners to maneuver around. The gym will also have a weight room, climbing wall and space for breakdancing.

Or at least that’s the plan. Aero just secured a location, at 4415 W. Montrose in Irving Park, and Sultan says the gym is on track to open in mid-January.

Money is a challenge. No investors have hopped on yet (“We haven’t had the best luck with that,” Sultan says) and a recent Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign netted only $770 of its $30,000 goal. Sultan and his business partner Cody Beltramo, though, have $20,000 in startup costs covered by their personal savings. They are looking to fundraisers and loans to help cover extra expenses and provide a little more flexibility.

But what about all that potential for injury? Sultan says the cost of insurance — issued through parkour gym chain Apex Movement’s insurance provider — isn’t too extreme. Parkour and breakdancing insurance will cost the gym around $4,000 per year.

To get the word out, Sultan will use Google ads to target people who are searching for parkour and freerunning. Fees will be in line with many boutique gyms’ — starting at $25 a class or $135 a month for unlimited use — and the goal is to get between 100 and 500 visitors in the door every month. And there’s no time like the present.

“The gym is being able to take advantage of being indoors during the cold weather months,” Sultan says. “We’ll get a lot of people training consistently year-round versus taking a six-month break in between.”