I talked to WFPF Athlete Omar Zaki who started his journey at Urban Evolution in Northern Virginia, developed a wide skill set, found his passion, then moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream to be a stuntman in Hollywood. I met Omar in 2012 and it’s amazing to see how far he has come since then.
How old are you and how long have you practicing Parkour also what is your athletic background both before and during?
I just turned 22 last month and have been training since November 2010. 5 and a half years ago! I have been involved with a very large amount of sports throughout my life! I was on Summer Swim League for 12 years, played soccer for 10 years, volleyball for 3 years, diving for 5 years, Snowboarding for 12 years now (no flips on the snowboard sadly), but what I have always been best at was running.
I have always been an extremely natural runner and that led me to compete in track and cross country for 7 years at a very high level.
Then obviously I added Parkour and Freerunning into the mix while participating in a few of those sports and from there I added basic gymnastics tumbling to my list of sports, which expanded into Martial Arts Tricking with some Tae-Kwon-Do for a brief period of time and then rock climbing has been the most recent addition to my sports training.
What brought you to Parkour/Freerunning, what attracted you so much to it?
Well I feel like most Parkour athletes in the community now, I have always been a monkey, jumping on things and climbing up buildings and whatnot, I definitely wasn’t a daredevil, but I did fall out of a few trees here and there.
“But when I first saw Parkour on the internet, I think I was 12 or 13 years old and I thought it was the most amazing thing. Looking back at those videos now, I realize that it was a mixture of Parkour, Freerunning, and Tricking. But to me, it was superhuman.”
I never even thought that i’d be capable of doing anything like that at all, and because of that, I didn’t try. That was until a Parkour gym opened up near me called Urban Evolution.
I talked to my best friend about it and we decided to go check it out! We took the intro lesson at UE where they taught us basic safety vaults, kong vaults, wall climbs, Parkour rolls and more. And I thought it was so much fun! I mean, this is what I had been looking for my whole life.
“I was being taught how to play! How to climb obstacles safely, how to jump off of them, and I realized that I had sold myself short 3 years earlier when I didn’t think I could ever do this. We were hooked.”
It was time to get serious. I started training with my best friend (Adam Trapp) at least 2 or 3 times a week! We would watch a bunch of YouTube tutorials in one of our houses, and then go out and learn/practice those skills!
Tell us some facts about yourself or even about Freerunning that you want to share?
Well the first fact is that when people ask me who I am or what I do, the first thing I tell them is that I’m a Freerunner. It has now become how I define myself.
Well 6 months into training, I was life-guarding at a swimming pool and I decided to show off and do a backflip off a picnic table for my co-workers, but I did not check to make sure the table was stable or safe. When I flipped off the table, the table flipped too and I landed straight on my head on concrete and was knocked out immediately and woke up inside an ambulance.
So first thing I learned is that I made a stupid decision when I decided to demonstrate my skills for the wrong reasons and then I didn’t check my environment to make sure it was safe and because of it I nearly broke my neck. I feel like I very easily could have paralyzed myself right then and there. So I learned a very big lesson about safety there. Freerunning is the most amazing community that I have ever been a part of.
I know that you were a long time student and instructor at Urban Evolution in Northern Virginia? How did that influence you? You have a very diverse Parkour and Freerunning skill set.
I took the intro lesson at Urban Evolution that I referenced earlier and after that began training outside with my friends and learning from videos on the internet. We would go around and explore and look for good spots to train at and after about a year of training, I went back to Urban Evolution and began as an assistant instructor there, eventually becoming a lead instructor. I taught for 2 years at Urban Evolution.
This influenced me greatly because I was able to make huge progress as an instructor, learning progressions for students (and myself), and ways to safely teach beginner, intermediate and advanced moves but I progressed even more as an athlete there, having a customizable gym that I could use to further advance my Parkour/Freerunning skills.
“Urban Evolution is truly one of the best Parkour gyms I have ever been to.”
How did you expand on this and figure out what you like style wise in Freerunning? What are some things that you did outside of traditional freerunning and Parkour training to grow?
“I don’t feel like I ever had to figure out my style. It feels like my style just happened.”
It probably stemmed from not training huge tricks, so I had to try to perfect all my basic movements. And I knew that I would never be the best freerunner in the world, so I decided to train Parkour, Freerunning, and Tricking kind of equally to try to create a unique style that combined all 3 of the different movements.
I also noticed you have done a bunch of video collaborations with Ryan Glass? How has working with him improved the way you market yourself and even just share your own unique message as an athlete?
Meeting and getting to work with Ryan Glass has been one of the greatest opportunities for me. It was amazing right off the bat because I was getting extremely high quality video footage of myself, as well as the opportunity to work with a cameraman who really knew what he was doing but it became even better from there because now in addition to still working together 3 years later, he is now a close friend of mine. He’s really a great guy with amazing talent and drive.
I think it was when I started working with Ryan that I really started to realize and believe that this was something that could really lead somewhere. I was getting a lot of exposure thanks to the videos that we were shooting and many many people were responding positively to our videos and telling me that I should try to be on tv or in movies. But up until we started working together, I was just an athlete.
After that, I began to learn a lot about how YouTube works, how advertising works, and how to market yourself which honestly are useful skills for most people to learn in this day and age. I’ve recently become a Content Creator for Fullscreen which is a Multi-Channel Network in YouTube, so this means that I am monetizing my videos. I’ve learned a lot about target audiences, how to anticipate trends, and again more about advertising. I still have much more to learn but I have come very far from just being a Parkour athlete anymore.
“I spoke with a good friend of mine, Nick Szabo, and he told me not too long ago that athletes have to advertise themselves like a business. We are the product. And if you want to try to make a living like this, then you need to learn how to sell your product, who wants your product and who could benefit from you.”
When it comes to sharing my own unique message as an athlete, I think that among other sports, Parkour athletes are some of the most interesting people with the most interesting, cool, peculiar backgrounds on how they got into Parkour and how it has affected their lifestyle. And even though I don’t think I have the most amazing story, I am still grateful that I have been given the chance to share my story with people who care.
What are your current projects right now? You just moved to LA? What made you want to move? How are you adjusting to the life of a Professional Freerunner/ Stuntman? Any reflections you would like to share?
Yes! I did! I had decided about 2 years ago that eventually I wanted to move to Los Angeles and try to see what I could do when it came to performing, stunts and acting. I thought I had a very unique set of skills and a unique look and personality that I believed would set me apart in LA and would also turn some heads. So after 2 years of developing my skills even more and finishing the Avatar the Last Airbender short film that I was working on here (on the east coast), I decided
” I was as ready as I was ever going to be and moved to LA.”
I am still very new to this lifestyle that I am trying to create for myself and I’ve gotten a few professional gigs here and there, not enough to fully support myself doing just that full-time, but good things are happening and a lot sooner than I anticipated. I have just been accepted to play the role of ‘Aramis’ in a 3 musketeers themed show that is performing all Summer long at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA. This is definitely the most professional job I’ve had when it comes to performing/stunts/acting We will be doing 90 shows in 9 weeks starting July 1st and I can’t wait to begin rehearsing/performing! In addition to landing that role, Ryan Glass and I are about to release our Avatar the Last Airbender short film that we worked on all last Summer with Kevin Sirivongxay and we are hoping to get a lot of exposure from that.
All in all, I am so happy with the decisions I have made so far in my life that have led me to be where I am now. I can’t say for sure whether this will work out in the end, but all I can say is that I am happy with my life right now and I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else, and I think that is the way you should live life. It’s good to think and plan for the future, but not at the expense of the moment. If you never enjoy the moment you are in, then planning for the future doesn’t make sense, because you will never be in the future, you will only ever be in the moment that you are living right now. The only advice I could give is figure out what it is that makes you happy, and pursue it with everything you’ve got. I’ve had to work hard to get where I am, but I have loved every second of it.
Thanks Omar for this opportunity to interview you! So happy I was able to see you at Beast Coast this year!
Here’s what we’ve learned from Omar in a handy bullet list:
- Omar sold himself short 3 years of possible training, don’t make the same mistake!If you still have not started sign up for a beginners class, or take a look at this!
- Omar’s style was the sum result of what he practiced. Keep doing what inspires you, don’t get too caught up in the details.
- Find someone who is already ahead of you to help you.
- Omar felt he needed moved to L.A. to get ahead, find out your path to trace.
- Because Omar was passionate it barely felt like work because he was having fun!
Here is a recent cringeworthy rap of Omar about… you guessed it…Parkour!