ONE GIANT LEAP FOR DUBAI

Egyptian athlete Reem El-Taweel tells Grazia how parkour not only helped her challenge her own limits but also challenge the perception of hijabi women in sport
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ONE GIANT LEAP FOR DUBAI

Al Serkal Avenue may be better known as the hub of Dubai’s burgeoning arts scene, but all that’s about to change, if 24-year-old Reem El-Taweel has any say in the matter. Hidden among the galleries of Al Quoz is Parkour DXB, the urban training space where Reem is an assistant coach, having touched down in Dubai just three weeks ago to pursue her ambition of a career in parkour.

For the uninitated, parkour is a discipline – derived from French military training – that essentially treats an urban enviroment as an obstacle course to navigate with as much speed, skill and style as possible. Reem discovered parkour when brother started training with Egyflow, a team in their native Egypt, six years ago, that she joined as the only girl.

“When I started parkour, everything seemed impossible to me,” Reem tells Grazia. “I used to be very scared of facing challenges, but this has changed a lot now. I’m still working on myself, of course, but I can do things now that seemed impossible before. Although I didn’t have a sports background, everything comes with practice and hard work.”

However, Reem’s journey has not been without its bumps in the road. “It has always been a struggle, but nowadays it’s a lot easier since the parkour community has got bigger with more girls participating.” She recalls, “It was hard at first when I was the only girl on the team and I couldn’t just go and train outdoors alone. People were always shocked to see a girl doing parkour in the streets. The movement itself was new for them so seeing a girl doing it surprised them.”

Reem was also beset by an injury that threatened to cut her parkour career short. “I sprained my lower back, which prevented me from training for almost eight months,” she reveals. “I learned a lot after that and came back stronger.”

Addressing the obvious risk involved, she argues, “There are two kinds of fears: the fear of a move I can physically do but I’m just mentally scared of the gap or the obstacle, and that’s when I push myself to do it.” She continues, “The other kind of fear comes when I’m not physically ready, so I have to step back and train more on what I can do to be better to face more challenges. You have to be aware of your limits. That’s the main key for staying safe.” Furthermore, she adds, “Falling down isn’t always a bad thing – sometimes it’s the way of learning not to repeat your mistake and find better solutions.” Not a bad mantra for life, either.

Unsurprisingly, someone who sprained her back while chasing her dreams isn’t about to let her veil get in the way of her love for parkour. “Sometimes society sees a hijabi as a close-minded person, but a hijabi can do parkour without any restrictions as long as she is wearing modest clothes and behaving with good manners. [There’s no conflict] with parkour at all.”

And she has this message for her fellow hijabis who want to follow her footsteps: “I want every girl who thinks she is limited by anything to know that this is only in her mind. You just have to remove this mental barrier. You can really achieve anything you want by just knowing that you can.” Reem’s dream is for the Arab world to have a bigger female community in parkour and other challenging sports. And for herself? “My main goal is to never stop doing parkour, no matter how old I am.”

GRAZIA’S PARKOUR 101

Reem put Grazia Fashion Assistant Hadeel Al-Heeti through her parkour paces. “Learning how to land or fall are the basics for parkour,” explains Reem. “Anyone can jump but the most important thing is how you are going to land safely and smoothly. After that comes how to vault over an obstacle or how to jump precisely.” Hadeel admits, “Although Reem jumped effortlessly from wall to wall, I was terrified of falling. She taught me the key to balance was focus, and by the time I did my first ‘precision jump’, the adrenaline kicked in. Reem then created an obstacle course incorporating the moves I learned. My verdict? Parkour is so much fun! It’s amazing to realise what you’re capable of once you try, and I’ll definitely be back.” 

PRECISION JUMP

Reem explains, “This jump is training for landing and coming to a halt after a jump on a smaller surface area.”

ARM JUMP

“Land with your feet against a vertical surface, then complete the move by pulling yourself onto the top.”

BALANCING

“This develops spacial awareness in preparation for walking on rails or wall edges.”

STEP VAULT

“In parkour, a vault is a quick way of passing objects roughly chest-height using your hands and sometimes your feet”

• For more info about Parkour DXB, visit parkour.ae or call 800 PARKOUR. Follow Reem on Insta

Photos: Ausra Osipaviciute