Fatemeh Akrami was a gymnastics champion, but she needed another thrill. Being from Tehran she was limited to competition with women, tucked away in gyms. She wanted something more. So she jumped, literally, at the chance when a local boy offered to teach her parkour.
Now Fatemeh is one of the best-known female parkour practitioners in Iran.You might catch her somersaulting across Tehran in one of several YouTube videos dedicated to her poise and guile, attributes she dedicates to her childhood years spent grappling gym equipment.Away went the clumsy hijab she'd been used to wearing, and in came her own, shorter outfit and scarf. Her favourite moves are the kong vault and the backflip, which she uses to hurdle Tehran's tough, ascetic landscape.
“I've been doing gymnastics for years,”says Akrami.“Parkour and free-running is so close to gymnastics, and it was easy for me to start because I was a gymnastics champion. But gymnastics is so limited in an Islamic country.
“The main feeling I get from parkour is freedom,”she adds.“It really helped me to feel that freedom in my own country. I could practice together with guys on the streets whenever I wanted to.” People have heckled her, she admits, but people often stop to clap her. It's something rarely seen in Iran. And a feeling Akrami desperately wants to confer to a younger generation of would-be free-runners.
She continues:“Showing the strong side of women is all I want to achieve.”
Unlike the divided classrooms, offices and gyms, parkour's
“Showing the strong
side of womenis all I want to
open playgrounds are a place where men and women mix, swap tips and help each other out. Mohammad Javad is a 17-year-old enthusiast from Shar-e-Babak, a small southern mining town. It sits in a mountainous strip of Iran next to the prehistoric village of Meymand.“The government is not good but the people are nice.We love all the people in the world,” he says.
Javad practises parkour in the park, in the gym and even in his bedroom. He draws huge inspiration from female free-runners, and it's one of the few places he and the girls can hang out.“Parkour is a way for women to have abandon,”he adds.“Iranian girls in parkour are hero symbols for other girls and I hope that one day everyone can do parkour without any problem. In parkour, man equals woman.”
For Gilda parkour gave her a chance to break free from Iran's repressive society, to run at her own pace.“It's all about speed, unlike the lives of young Iranian women, which sometimes feel like they're frozen.”
As for Fatemeh Akrami, she's moved on to even bigger things. Right now she works as a gymnastic coach in Tehran. But her adrenaline addiction has taken her to an even more extreme discipline, skydiving, for which she has to travel to Dubai.Akrami is under no illusions about the tough environment for women all over Iran. She just hopes that she can inspire others to break free and follow her lead.“There are some extreme sports that women don't usually do here like parkour and skydiving. I'd love these sports to be popular, and some day I'll be the one who passes her information to all the girls who want to learn.
“I lost years of talent in the gym,”she adds.“I don't want this to happen to others.”