‘The World Is My Playground’. The story of Abudi Alsagoff.
‘Courage is like a muscle. We strengthen it with use.’
Name: Abudi Alsagoff
Occupation: Parkour & Freerunner Trainer
Red Bull Pro Athlete
Length of stay in Dubai: 9 months
– The last thing you need, when you are up there is to freak out. Do not even get close to the edge, if you think that can happen to you. – He ascertains as if performing the outrageous stunts on the skyscrapers’ roofs is an obvious, daily life activity in the city.
It’s one of those very spontaneous meetings. One moment you’re planning to meet in the near future and seconds later you find yourself winding through Sheikh Zayed Road all the way from the airport to Tecom, pardon, Barsha Heights, where home happens to be, changing clothes with a hysterical speed and setting up a meeting point for an hour later.
– Anything less crowded than Mall of the Emirates? – I ask while throwing high heels to the bedroom’s corner, ironing a shirt and changing skirt for a cotton sandy colored trousers, hoping they could save me a bit from the outside’s heat.
– Al Barsha Mall. It’s small, quiet and not far away from where we live. – I read in a response.
The place, comparing to the massive centers around the city, turns out to be a pint-sized shopping mall, where a little privacy is not considered as something impossible to be achieved; few stores, small cafeterias and definitely friendlier crowd. We meet in the middle of the main hall, greet each other rather shyly and pick the first café on the horizon.
When we finally sit I can’t take my eyes of him. His petite appearance, almost tentative distance, smooth voice and body language is contrasting noticeably with the man’s image I’d created in my head before our vis-à-vis confrontation. But the one thing I can surely say is that Abudi certainly does not lack in confidence. He talks slowly, but with assured, buoyant behavior, knowing exactly where to direct the attention. All this nicely packed in black tight pants, colorful runners and long to the knees hooded blouse. A modern Robin Hood outfit; although designed to climb the concrete structures of the city’s jungle rather than the green forests.
It was the gym that brought him to Dubai. The offer appeared in his mailbox when he was in Kuala Lumpur. He signed a contract and shortly after was holding a plane ticket to Dubai. No second thoughts. At least not many.
The gym was the first place solely dedicated to the concept of calisthenics. Maybe there were plenty of fitness facilities around the city, but majority of them offered similar classes with the same concept. None really focused on parkour and freerunning, that’s why they needed a professional athlete that could responsibly train others.
– It’s not only a sport. It’s more about developing the strength, courage and capacity of the human body. – he explains further.
In the strictest sense, parkour is an art of moving through the environment as smoothly and effectively as possible using only our own body. It is possible by developing the physical and mental capacity through regular and tough training to overcome obstacles. Freerunning focuses on the aspect of freedom. It’s more like a self-expression, self-movement, so it’s not necessarily about getting from one point to another.
– Basically calisthenics work both ways: it develops the strength and also scopes the body. And the best part is, it’s always been around, it just catches trends. – he makes a short pause checking if I follow.
He grew up seeing other kids playing soccer, basketball or other common games. They were too popular, ordinary or maybe even boring to get his full attention. But then, one shiny day, his neighbor introduced him to parkour. After hearing all the unbelievable stories, amazed but also slightly doubter he went home to check what he could find online.
And what he saw completely blew his mind.
– I’ve never imagined it was even possible to do something like that with a human body. I had to try that. – He says with an impish smile.
At first he never thought he could or even wanted to practice parkour professionally, but before even realizing he made some connections; found new friends, who taught him the technique and proper movements. Without any safety equipment, day-by-day, step-by-step, jump after jump on a grass or empty fields.
– Injuries? – I raise my eyebrows waiting for that answer.
– Nah. – he laughs. – I’ve never broken any bones, but twisted ankles happened all the time.
Two years after starting training he decided to buy a trampoline. A very unusual accessory for a country with temperatures set around 30 degrees all year round and insane level of humidity, but at that stage he knew it would bring him the most significant progress. Although it was difficult to get it and it was very expensive, he shipped it from London and that moved him to another, higher level. After getting a proper training place, he started working on a body movement consciousness, balance, agility, precision and perfection of the technique; something otherwise very difficult to be achieved.
Just before coming to Dubai, in 2014, he also obtained his degree in computer engineering, but that never brought him any satisfaction.
– I think by being an account worker or an engineer, or doing any other job we tend to think it’s stabile, dependable, risk free job, but it’s still possible to be let off by the company that is hiring you. So instead of living unsatisfied life with a fear of loosing your position… why not just take a chance and do what you like instead?
That’s why when the offer appeared in his mailbox, he signed that contract.
When the gym was launched Abudi already had made some networks. He met with local photographers and did photo shoots on the top of the highest skyscrapers in the city. The most famous, a human flag on the construction site, 432 metres above ground, got him all the attention from the local and international media.
– I know you hear it all the time, but what about the fear of height?
– Height has never really been an issue for me. I remember when I was a kid I used to love climbing trees and jumping off everything. I’ve never experienced vertigo… I believe it developed with me, that’s why I cannot relate to this fear because it doesn’t exist it me. Instead I got this feeling of calmness, can’t really describe it, but it’s just an amazing experience.
Abudi believes everything is in our minds. Once you start practicing, whether it’s parkour or yoga, or anything else, you work not only on your body, but most importantly – you develop your mental strength. Besides freerunners have their own fears, mostly related to injuries caused by learning new movements. When you stop practicing, even for a short while, you will feel fear of falling, hurting yourself. No matter how good you are, how good you remember the move itself or a technique. It’s like riding a horse, rollerblading, skiing after years of break. It’s a muscle memory.
– If you stop doing it, that thing goes away. – he throws his hands up. – I want to explain you something but I need your visualization. Let’s talk about our childhood. Did you jump a lot as a child?
– I did. – I smile to that memory. – I grew up surrounded by the nature. Most of the time our parents couldn’t keep us inside. There were so many places to discover, ponds to swim, trees to climb. You know how it was back then. No wifi. No Netflix. We had to use our imagination and mix it with whatever was in front of us. – I laugh.
– Exactly! – he jumps on his sofa.
The world is completely different when we are young and careless, he explains. Children have this creative way of living and experiencing reality. The whole concept of our little existence is about exploring, enjoying. Everything is a playground, whether it’s a sofa, new painted wall, an old cupboard, tree or our neighbor’s fence. It’s all an adventure, isn’t it?
– Can you see these walls over there? – He points his fingers towards the cityscape, with the brick walls on the foreground – Most probably you see a bunch of bricks painted in white. I look at the same wall and I see movements that possibly can be done. It’s the same with children. They have this imagination, that free spirit, that helps them to disconnect from the imposed principles and perspectives, and we, freerunners, we train to have it as well. It’s kind of like thinking outside the box, that once used to be open, and with years it’s becoming more and more challenging. And it’s not that you stop playing because you grow old. You grow old because you’ve stopped playing. That’s why we see the world as our playground, because we can do anything anywhere. So in a matter of fact, it’s very simple: just never stop playing.
Obviously he’s right. When we grew up we loose this childish curiosity. We narrow our horizons. In order to avoid distractions we look without seeing and tend to accept the surroundings unconsciously. Once we learn the meaning and practicality of something we take it for granted. Changing, or rather bringing back the perspective involves changing our way of seeing the world now and that requires a regular practice, almost as tough as physical part of training parkour or freerunning.
I guess this eagerness to play took him all the way to the top of the world’s, possibly, the largest residential structure, and made him also do a human flag. He climbed 200 flights of stairs to perform it for the first time ever, without any harness or any other support to prevent
him from falling.
– But doing this ‘Human Flag’ atop Dubai’s 101 Marina? That’s a death wish. – I say.
– Death wish? No, not at all. – he insists. – It’s all about the training – movement efficiency, overall strength, balance, agility and passion. Anyway, you will see once we meet again.
Days later, we meet in front of one of the high buildings. We decided to visit the rooftop together. If ever I was to understand that man I had to face the limitless height. I wanted to get as close to the edge as my shaky knees would allowed me to.
‘How is he not getting any attention from the security guards?’ I wonder but before figuring out the answer, we are already in the elevator taking us straight to the last floor of the building.
– The staircase to the rooftop is usually left opened. If it’s open it is accessible. – he laughs, while rotating the handle of the door leading us to the highest, last level.
It’s hot outside. Even despite the early evening the heat did not pick itself up from the ground and its sticky weight cripple the whole city.
– The last thing you need, when you are up there is to freak out. – he points the leading edge of the building’s roof. – Do not even get close, if you think that can happen to you. – he ascertains as if performing the outrageous stunts on the skyscraper’s roofs is an obvious, daily activity in this city.
I can feel how drops of sweat slowly make their way on my face. While holding a flimsy steel guardrail on top of the building with a helipad, I suddenly understand what he means. It is so easy to freak out, while you’re there, standing at the edge. I feel my legs becoming softer and softer, my stomach heavier, breath shorter and shallow.
And that’s vertigo, my friends.
But forget that.
Here we are, standing on the top of the residential building, facing Burj Khalifa with the reflections of the last rays of sun on its stunning facade dazzling our eyes. We look at Downtown; miniature cars parked over sixty floors below, traffic on Sheikh Zayed, mosaic of lights. Speechless experience.
All of a sudden I recall the recently seen movie, where Phillipe Petite was trying to explain his temptations to play with a death. And now, by looking at Abudi and seeing his peaceful, focused and somehow fulfilled face, I finally understand what he means.
For him it was life.
Abudi’s never renewed his contract with the gym, although he stayed in Dubai longer. After few months of living here he became an official Red Bull Pro Athlete and did some interesting projects in the city. He’s also a member of Alpha Movements team in Kuala Lumpur, designs a line of clothes, hosts a TV show ‘Changemakers’ and continues his worldwide cooperation with Red Bull.
Writer: Joanna Skladanek from https://www.uaeinsideout.com/post/the-world-is-my-playground-the-story-of-abudi-alsagoff