Faith and Parkour with Calen Chan

March 30, 2022 10 min read

Faith and Parkour with Calen Chan

When it comes to parkour, faith and religion can be tricky subjects. In this article I am not going to attempt to analyze religion, nor attempt to cast judgment on the spiritual standing of anyone, religious or otherwise.


There are countless athletes who place their faith in some level of spirituality, and equally as many who avoid it entirely. I am one of the latter, and so parkour training for me is a purely solitary experience; just my mind, and my movement. Calen Chan is a great example of the opposite. As one of the more outspoken freerunners regarding his beliefs, and an incredibly talented freerunner to say the least, I feel Calen has a point of view that could be valuable to those who also see their beliefs intertwined with their practice. Those who view their parkour abilities as a blessing from whichever spirituality that they ascribe their faith.


Despite living within 45 miles of each other, Calen and I have never been in contact or trained with one another, which is a shame. But this interview was the perfect opportunity to change that. We sat down on the first balmy afternoon of Spring here in Utah, and discussed his religious beliefs, how they relate to his parkour, and much more. 

Me: For those who might not know, what religion are you a part of, and what are some of your fundamental beliefs?

Calen: So I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (shortened to LDS), many people refer to us as Mormons. We are a Christian church, we believe in the Bible, we believe that the church and the authority that Jesus established was lost at one point, and has been restored again. There’s a lot hahaha. 

Me: Yeah, I’m a little bit familiar with the faith, having grown up here in Salt Lake, but there’s a lot to it. What do you want other people to know about your faith?

Calen: The main thing that separates our church from others is that we don’t just believe we have the truth, we believe we have the authority from God to baptize and to do his work. We also have a living prophet who receives the word of God today. Many faiths believe that miracles don’t happen anymore and that the revelation isn’t given anymore, and that’s the main thing. We believe the Book of Mormon to be evidence of that. 

Me: If I’m correct, in the LDS faith there is something you refer to as the “Word of Wisdom.” Can you talk about that and how it applies to your parkour?

Calen: Absolutely, yeah. As I said before, we believe that the church is being led by modern prophets, seers, and apostles, they receive revelations for our time, and the Word of Wisdom was one of those revelations. It’s basically just keeping our bodies clean, healthy and active. It’s kind of common sense, because if your physical health isn’t good, your mental health isn’t going to be good, your emotional health isn’t going to be good, and it’s going to be harder to be a good person. Some of the ideals in the Word of Wisdom are like no substance use. We don’t drink alcohol, we don’t smoke, we don’t even drink coffee or tea, and basically avoid all unhealthy addictions, so we aren’t dependent on anything. It’s definitely helped me, I have a very addictive personality, I tend to get addicted to things really fast, so having that principle was really beneficial for me. I’ve never drank alcohol or smoked anything, and I’m grateful because I feel like I would get sucked into that lifestyle really easily. Following this principle means that I don’t have to worry about anything like that. 

 

Me: Is it just your faith that keeps you from experimentation, or is it a moral obligation and sense of self?

Calen: I mean obviously my faith and moral obligation are huge motivators, because they allow me to participate in my beliefs. But I do also see a practical use for that, and I’m really grateful in a logical sense. Like there are some things in the Word of Wisdom that I don’t understand right now, but everything else in there is awesome and keeps me healthy.

Me: What’s one of the things that you don’t understand, if you don’t mind me asking?

Calen: There’s some specific things that aren’t mentioned. For example, we don’t drink coffee or tea, but there are members of the church who will gladly drink tons of Red Bull, or unhealthy things like that. What’s kind of cool is that when the Word of Wisdom was introduced, smoking wasn’t seen as unhealthy yet, and so members were confused about the no smoking rule. Jump forward a few years, and they’ve proven that smoking causes cancer, and it’s something the church had said all along.

Me: So is there anything in the Word of Wisdom that you either don’t agree with by chance?

Calen: Not really, not anymore. Maybe when I was younger I had questions. But basically how it works for me is that once you find the biggest piece of truth, of what you know absolutely to be true, then it helps you find the answers for all the little nuanced stuff. 

 

 

Me: What is it that makes you a strong believer in your faith?

Calen: In Utah it’s like 60% of the population are members of the church. Everyone has to have their own conversion though. So many people grew up in the church and they leave because they never overcame a test of their faith. I had a close friend actually who was in the church his whole life and when he left he told me this really long story. After hearing what he had to say I considered leaving the church myself, but I didn’t go forth blindly refusing to believe. I prayed a lot, searched the scriptures, and did the work that I felt needed to be done to find the answers that I needed. It’s a long story, but basically I received the answers that I was looking for and my faith actually grew, because it’s the first time that my faith was tested. It was the first time that I took a step back and thought, “Is what I believe true? Am I being deceived?” 

Me: That’s interesting. How do you apply your faith to your parkour?

Calen: One really cool thing is that we believe that in our life on Earth we are here to be tested, there’s life after this, and eternal progression. How it applies to parkour is a story, so when I was in high school things were not good. I had a sleeping disorder, and I had a school counselor look me in the face and tell me I was going to be a failure in life, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had just gotten into parkour, and I wasn’t very good but I loved it. Basically I said a prayer, and I asked God to help me develop my parkour, the only thing I’m good at, into a career, and that I would use those talents to do good and spread the word of God. After that my skills started going through the roof, and things started changing. I even got all of these opportunities to help people and to do the kind of work that I feel that God would want me to do because of parkour and because of the people that I’ve met through it. I feel like as long as I am consecrating my talents to God and doing that first before myself, then God can make anything happen. I definitely don’t think that I would have done everything I have without God’s help.

Me: On that note then, you’ve obviously done some incredible things, you even have a couple of world’s firsts under your belt if I’m not mistaken. How do you reconcile giving God “credit,” for lack of a better term, for your talents while also being an unbelievably hard working and determined individual? Where does the line get drawn between your hard work and accomplishment and God’s plan for you?

Calen: That’s an excellent question. Obviously there are so many athletes who aren’t religious at all, and they’re amazing, just hard working athletes. I also believe that God isn’t just going to give me all of the talents, I still have to put in the work. God gives us agency. Basically it’s not about all of the little things that I do, it’s about where I’m aiming in the long run. I believe that as long as my sights are on God and his plan for me then everything else will fall into place, and I can use my agency as I see fit, and I choose to use my agency to do parkour and do hard tricks. As long as my eternal perspective is correct then it should all work out.

Me: Has your faith and its role in your life changed over the years?

Calen: Yeah it’s gone through a lot of ups and downs, but it always ends up going upward even more. It’s easy to let your faith wane. Oftentimes, even recently, my faith starts lacking and I don’t feel like going to church or doing those things, and even my belief feels like it’s starting to fade a little bit. But I’ve had experiences in my life that I cannot deny, that are so real and personal to me, and when I remember those, my faith keeps growing.

Me: Can you talk about one of those moments?

Calen: So you know I went on a mission in 2018 to New Zealand? I didn’t plan on going on a mission at first. In Utah it’s almost expected of everyone in the church to go on a mission, I just wasn’t planning on it, but after talking to my friend and having that trial with almost leaving the church, I needed something. The promise in the Book of Mormon is that if you read the entirety of the scripture, ponder its message and pray and ask God if the words are true, then you are promised that you will receive the answer. I did all of those things, knelt and prayed, and received the answer. It’s another long story, and I don’t know if you want to get into all of that, but it was an amazing experience and timing that just helped solidify what I had just discovered. 

Me: You mentioned your mission, can you talk more about that experience?

Calen, Yeah, so after I received my revelation then the prompting of going on my mission came up. I was not expecting that, but I felt like God wanted me to, even though I had a sleeping disorder and I felt it would be really difficult for me. I ended up coming home early due to some complications, but I think if you know the story of Abraham and Isaac, it was kind of like that. When I left on my mission I was at the peak of my career. I was doing my hardest tricks outside, I was on my way to winning some really big competitions, and then when I decided to go on my mission it felt like God had given all of these blessings, and was asking me to sacrifice them. It was the hardest choice to make, and it was definitely the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. Even coming back, I noticed some blessings immediately, but it was a really big trial. Getting my career started again, getting married in 2019, right around that time my Instagram got hacked, and I lost so many opportunities and sponsorships that I had received with my other account. So it was hard, I almost quit parkour a few times, I got injured a lot, and thought I’d do something else. But something kept bringing me back to it, and this year has already been my best year yet. I’ve got so many big things coming up, and even yesterday I did the biggest trick of my life, which is why I’m hurt currently. You’ll see it soon though!

Me: I’m excited to see what that is, because you’re always hitting crazy stuff. But how has parkour solidified your faith, and how has it challenged your faith?

Calen: That is a good question. I believe that this life, mortality, is such a small section of time through our existence. If you really think about that, it means parkour isn’t going to matter, when I’m immortal I won’t care that I did all of these flips, none of this will seem significant anymore. But at the same time it’s like, right now, here, this is the only time in my existence that I have to face these fears and overcome these challenges. It’s like the perfect time to challenge myself with parkour, and see what’s possible with the human body. I feel like looking at it that way, having this body is a test from God but it’s also a gift to learn and grow. It’s definitely challenged my faith when I think thoughts like, “Why does any of this even matter, even though parkour means so much to me right now.” But it reinforces my faith when I think, “Wow, this is amazing what I can do, and mortality is wonderful.” 

Me: So from your perspective it’s about finding significance in something infinitesimally small. 

Calen: Yeah exactly!

Me: Is there anything that you would like to emphasize about faith or parkour to the people who read this?

Calen: Whether you’re religious or not, it’s just good energy to believe that if you’re trying to make a positive difference in the world using your talents, the universe or God or whatever you believe in is going to make that happen. For me, I feel a direct connection that if I’m trying to do God’s work here using my talents, then he is going to help me develop those talents and experience a lot of joy. It’s like Spider-man, you know? “With great power comes great responsibility.” If you want to help other people, then you’re the kind of person who deserves to be given the ability to do so. 

Me: Well said, thank you for doing this with me man!

Calen: Thank you! I’ve never had to answer questions like that before, so this has been really cool. 


I am truly grateful to Calen for being willing to sit down and discuss his religious beliefs, a very private and often uncomfortable subject to broach for many people. While he and I may have very different opinions on matters of theology, we find common ground in parkour, and that’s more than enough commonality to approach each other with respect and courtesy. Calen is a remarkable athlete and person, and if his faith provides a spiritual aide, a moral compass, and the mental fortitude to do kong gainer precisions, then more power to him.


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