Willard works to master the art of freerunning

Standing at the top of a set of stairs in downtown Sioux Falls, James Willard is dressed in sweatpants and a loose T-shirt. With determination in his eyes, he is ready to freerun.

He vaults over the rail, flips down the stairs, cartwheels to the other side, then vaults back up, finishing the chain of movements (also called a line) with a backflip. Throughout the line he adds spins for flair. Once he lands, a slight smile appears on his face.

In addition to double majoring in journalism and art, Willard is a devoted freerunner, which is a rarity in Sioux Falls. Freerunning, which is similar to parkour, is the act of getting from one place to another in an efficient yet artistic way.

Because of the intensity of freerunning, Willard devotes countless hours a week to his hobby, be it through working out, training indoors or practicing outside.

“[Since] March of last year, I trained every single day, multiple times, up until about [four weeks] ago,” Willard said, regarding his training regimen.

This training has led to Willard mastering his own body, as he would describe it.

This mastery can be seen in videos of his freerunning.

In one, he stands facing a brick bench and a column. Crouched, ready for action, he runs toward the bench, vaults it, does a backflip off of the column, backflips off of the ground and vaults back over the bench. He does another backflip, vaults across the bench one last time, then finishes with a final backflip. After finishing the line, he jogs it off like nothing happened.

In another, he jumps into a cartwheel, backflips from the ground, vaults over a fence, backflips off of a ledge, then finishes with a cartwheel into a spinning frontflip.

Such mastery requires devotion, something Willard has had his whole life.

His father, business administration assistant professor Matthew Willard, attested to that devotion when describing Willard’s experience with freerunning.

“He’s all self taught,” Dr. Willard said. “He’ll see a move and then he copies it, and then he builds on that.”

Willard’s journey with freerunning started early in his childhood when he saw a YouTube video of parkour tricks. He slowly tried to imitate the tricks with his friends;  two years later, he attempted his first flip.

Jumping off of an electric box outside his house, Willard attempted a front flip, but landed on his back. After multiple tries and serious dedication, he finally landed on his feet.

From there, freerunning became a favorite hobby of his.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that he started taking it seriously. Since then, he has been putting in countless hours both at the gym and outside.

Those hours paid off.

One of his lines starts with him on a ledge. He jumps from the ledge to a wall, which he does a backflip off of. Once on the ground, he does a backflip, runs back up to the wall, backflips off it again, then finishes with a final backflip off the ground.

In another line, he faces three subsequently taller benches. With determination, he runs forward, jumps and plants one foot on the first bench, jumps and plants the opposite foot on the second, then lands on the third.

The next step in his freerunning career would be to enter a parkour competition, also known as a jam. Willard has yet to take that step, but his girlfriend, Lily Monroe, believes he should.

“If he starts competing, he has the potential to do some very amazing things,” Monroe said. “What he does is incredible.”

Regardless of what he has planned for his future, one thing is certain: Willard is truly determined. He has his eyes on the prize, and for him, that prize is simply the artistry of freerunning.

“There is a feeling you get when you accomplish a movement or a line that is just unparalleled, you know,” Willard said. “There’s really nothing like it.”

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