In a recent bout of nostalgia, Sarasota native and parkour enthusiast Sean Morris dug up his fifth-grade yearbook and found his picture.
“Everyone had written what they wanted to be when they grew up,” says Morris. “Most kids had put astronaut or doctor. Mine was really short. I wrote, ‘I think I want to be a stunt man.’”
Today, Morris is, more or less, living his dream. A personal trainer and four-time competitor on the G4 television show, “American Ninja Warrior,” which challenges competitors to complete an intense obstacle course, he spends much of his time teaching and perfecting various stunts and athletic techniques.
It’s hard to pin down exactly what it is that Morris does. Incorporating techniques such as slacklining, free running, rock climbing and parkour, he describes his style as more of a passion for applicable strength training.
“It’s not about being the strongest or the fastest,” says Morris. “It’s about adaptability. I’m kind of the anti-gym. It never made sense to me to focus on only a few large muscle groups. Aesthetics will follow function, not the other way around.”
Morris was first introduced to “American Ninja Warrior” in 2009, when he was working as an installer of residential hurricane shutters. He would sometimes use his parkour and rock-climbing skills on the job, hanging from one hand and operating a drill with the other.
“My boss told me I should compete,” remembers Morris. “I had no idea what it was, but after he explained it, I went out and made an audition tape the next day.”
After submitting his tape, he was invited to compete in the show’s first season, and he’s continued to compete each year, placing in the top 30 each time.
When he’s not competing, Morris can be found in his personal favorite practice space: his own backyard — a sort of jungle gym on steroids, which includes a homemade rock wall, giant monkey bars, an underground trampoline, slacklines, foam pits and various other tools of the ninja trade. He can usually be found there, climbing, jumping and flipping with friends, or even just under the supervision of his pet bird, Cocoa — the cockatoo.
“She loves everyone but my girlfriends,” he jokes as he prepares for another attempt at a back flip on one of his slacklines — a trick he was one of the first to successfully complete.
Morris says the individual nature of his sport and its noncompetitive nature lends itself to a more unified culture, and he hopes to use it to inspire today’s youth to be more active. He gives regular demonstrations to the kids in Shamrockers USA running club, teaches classes out of his home and plans to open a new facility in conjunction with the Shamrockers.
“When I was young, I was the kid with ADD that was always being told to settle down,” says Morris. “What I really needed was a catharsis. I want to give kids that outlet. The best part is that they don’t have that sense of limitation yet.”
Terms of the trade
Parkour: An discipline of movement focused on overcoming obstacles using running, climbing, swinging, vaulting, leaping and rolling.
Slacklining: A sport in which people balance on nylon webbing stretched between two anchor points. Unlike tightrope walking, the slackline stretches and bounces.
Free running: A variation of parkour, in which runners place more emphasis on style and creativity, as compared to the speed used in parkour.
‘American Ninja Warrior’: A television show on G4 TV, in which competitors attempt to complete a rigorous obstacle course. As of the first four seasons, no American has completed the course.