Student Spotlight: David Ivey '15

Duke senior on how he learns through parkour

Parkourist Ivey practicing his sport. Photo by Phoenica Zhang, '15.
Parkourist Ivey practicing his sport. Photo by Phoenica Zhang, '15.

Most Duke students don’t pick remote Edens Quad as their favorite spot on campus. Yet for senior David Ivey, a sponsored parkour athlete, its stone walls and grassy surroundings are perfect to practice vaulting, leaping, climbing and backflips.

Translated from French, parkour simply means “running”,  but that definition don’t do justice to what started as military obstacle course training and morphed into an extreme sport with martial art components. Titles of popular online parkour tutorials are more descriptive: “How to cat leap from wall to wall” and “Jump from railing to railing like Assassin's Creed.”

For Ivey, however, parkour is an intellectual challenge that has taught him to be an active thinker in and out of the classroom.

 “We’re taught to walk down the steps, sit at desks, walk in between walls, etc. but there's clearly so much more we can do than that,’’  he said, pointing to the students filing in and out of Von Der Heyden, eyes glued to their phones. "If you’re in a place like this, parkour makes you ask, “Why not jump on the table?  You begin to question other things people take for granted. ”   

Ivey’s first question, “Why not try parkour?” was the hardest . Eight years ago, Ivey watched his first parkour video on YouTube. He was fascinated yet disheartened, feeling overweight and unathletic:  “I let it be a daydream.”

One day he told himself: “You can’t do parkour now but you’ll never be able to do it if you don’t try.” Ivey began practicing in  his neighborhood park  outside of Washington, DC. Gradually, he taught himself by copying movements from YouTube videos. He then started training with fellow enthusiasts.  

Today he has his own YouTube channel, where the world can watch him tumbling in front of the chapel and running through the streets of DC. It has garnered more than 80,000 views.

People often ask him about the danger involved in his favorite sport. He stresses the difference between taking worthless risks and learning from challenges.

"I love the jumps and climbs,” he says. ‘’However, the attention-​​grabbing parts of parkour are a means to an end. They help me to confront fear in a controlled manner."

Ivey, who is majoring in Spanish and International Comparative Studies, has continued to develop his sport at Duke even without an official parkour club. Last year, he studied in Madrid, improving his Spanish and flips in public parks with fellow parkourists. These days, you might glimpse him training near K-Ville or perhaps jumping on the walls outside the Arts Theme House, where he lives.

 Ivey encourages other Duke  students interested in the sport to give it a shot. “You don’t have to be a superhero to try parkour,” he says.