Meet Paris: An East Coast Climber and Ninja Warrior!

 Photo Credit: Win Soo Hoo

Photo Credit: Win Soo Hoo

Paris Brown has always dealt with performance anxiety—never more so than her qualifying round for American Ninja Warrior Season 9. She had an agonizingly heartbreaking fall off of the second obstacle on the course. And just like that her season was over. But her story didn’t end there. Paris got back up and continued training. She is now stronger than ever!

Paris started training parkour five years ago at Urban Evolutions in Alexandria, Virginia after coming across a living social deal. She explained, “I went for an intro class and was hooked immediately...It was a completely different way to move. I learned to look at the world differently through that.” Parkour is a free flowing discipline that seems part urban gymnastics part self-expression. It emerged in France in the 1980s and has since spread all over the world to include DC public schools.

When I think of parkour, what comes to mind is the fast-paced opening scene of Casino Royale (2006) where Daniel Craig, newly installed as James Bond, chases French actor Sebastien Foucan through city streets and a construction site. The movement is dynamic, efficient and powerful, taking advantage of the urban environment—benches, walls, rails, cranes—anything is fair game. It looks exhilarating but also scary! Foucan is actually the founder of a variant of parkour—free running—which involves more creative self-expression.

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It was through the parkour community that Paris was later introduced to climbing. She started bouldering two years ago and admitted to being “terrible at first. I was strong but not in that way.” It didn’t really matter though. She “liked the inclusive community and how everyone was always having fun. Parkour is very much a creative thing which is great but i struggled with that. Climbing has set routes and problems and that really clicked with me.”

For the uninitiated, bouldering as a beginner is not easy. Strength and flexibility aren’t enough. It’s also about analyzing a problem set and incorporating beta, the way a route is typically read. Even beta can change depending on a climber’s size and preference for either methodical static climbing or powerful dynamic moves.

Paris falls into the second category. Her short powerful moves are occasionally captured on film by friends at her local climbing gym, Earth Treks. That’s actually how I first heard of Paris—while watching professional quality footage of a dark skinned African American climber, wiry and muscled on Instagram. She’s also one of a small handful of dark skinned Black female climbers with a presence on social media; providing representation for the next generation of little Black girls and holding it down in her low key, humble way. She has presence and physical strength which she attributes to parkour— “I first learned to dyno from parkour so I think that translated over. I really have to struggle and work hard and focus more on technique with static climbs.” 

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This year she has become more serious about outdoor climbing. She was initially apprehensive of spiders lurking in climbing holds, but outdoor bouldering is so fun for her that she doesn’t let that stop her.  Paris mainly frequents local places around DC such as Cunningham Falls State park. It has an easy approach with a mix of different types of climbing, including overhanging powerful climbs, which are her favorite. She really wants to visit the New River Gorge in West Virginia. The New has top notch sport climbing and bouldering, but Paris really wants to try deep water soloing (DWS). DWS is a form of climbing, where the climber uses water as their landing protection rather than a rope or a crash pad.  She says, “despite not liking the fall feeling, it looks like too much fun not to try!”

How does Paris train?

To get and maintain her incredible strength, she follows a strength and calisthenics workout plan and climbs 4x a week for fun.  She also works on her cardio and agility on obstacles.

What else attracted Paris to bouldering?

Well, “you don't need a lot of equipment, you don't need to always have a partner with you.” She also likes the problem solving aspect of climbing and being able to do crazy things with your body. But the inclusive community is also what drew her to the sport. People might not automatically think community when they think of an adventure sport like climbing so we were curious about Paris’ experience. 

How welcoming is the community? And did you ever feel like you stood out as a Black Woman in a traditionally White male dominated sport? Ambreen Tariq recently wrote about the challenge of trying something new when you are the only person who looks like you.

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Paris had this to say: “I've become somewhat comfortably uncomfortable in that environment but it's still something that can be intimidating. I guess my advice in that scenario is to push past that uncomfortable feeling and do it anyways. Everyone tends to be very welcoming.” She also recommended getting involved with groups that promote diversity in adventure sports such as Brown Girls Climb because “getting awareness and joining early is a great strategy. That’s the main thing in addition to working past discomfort.” Even if community isn’t what initially draws people to try an adventure sport, it’s often the reason why they stay.

So how did Paris go from parkour to climbing to American Ninja Warrior?

A friend at her climbing gym encouraged her to apply a week before the deadline last year. They put together an edited video last minute but she didn’t get her hopes up. Maybe that’s why she was so excited to get the call that she had been selected. And nervous! But things didn’t exactly go according to plan. She had always been aware of her performance anxiety from participating in team sports growing up. In the moment, she would dissociate. But she also assumed that her experience was no worse than different from anyone else’s.

The night of her qualifying round for Season 9 finally arrived. The filming was overnight so she ran the course around 4am. Aside from the fatigue, she was surrounded by celebrities and incredible athletes. The experience was exhilarating but also intimidating. She felt the familiar anxiety creep up.

“I got called to go back and get ready to go on. As I’m waiting in line a camera guy came and looked at me and was like ‘do something you’re on camera.’ I had no idea what to do. Once it was my turn to start I walked up. You’re waiting for a few seconds before the start (there’s a countdown person).” Paris made it through the first obstacle but wasn’t mentally prepared for the second. She fell. And just like that her competition was over.

How do you recover from failure?

In her eyes, you get back up and keep training!  In addition to becoming physically stronger, she’s incorporating “anxiety coping strategies like visualization, breathing techniques, and grounding” to become mentally stronger.  

What does Paris do outside of climbing, parkour, and ninja?

She works as a business analyst for the government and commercial businesses. She manages who’s on their networks and makes sure the networks are secure.

You can follow Paris (@paris_mvmt) on Instagram to see her continue her ninja and climbing training!