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Mastering Your Fears

September 27, 2011

As a Yooper (someone from the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan) I am used to boundless natural beauty. While Ann Arbor has plenty of wooded areas and an amazing parks system, there is a lot more concrete down here than in the U.P. As it turns out, this concrete jungle is the perfect place for “traceurs” to practice “parkour”.

Before you head off to Wikipedia to figure out what the heck I’m talking about, let me explain. Parkour is a way of movement in which people try to conquer obstacles with speed and efficiency. People who practice parkour are known as traceurs (according to Wikipedia). To onlookers, parkour looks like something out of The Matrix; people falling from ridiculous heights, scaling 20 foot walls, and jumping from wall to wall as if they had Velcro on their hands and feet.

Out of all the buildings on campus, the dental school turns out to be the best place to practice parkour because of all the obstacles such as stairs, hand rails, benches, walls, and bike racks. After listening to traceurs talk about their experiences in overcoming fear and becoming more skillful in parkour, I was struck by the similarities it has with dentistry.

When I first started as a first year dental student here at the University of Michigan, the idea of drilling on a tooth terrified me just as the prospect of jumping off a 30 foot building probably scares a traceur at first. Thankfully we started off slowly and progressed from there. Over the years my confidence and abilities have grown by building off of what I have previously learned.  Now as a third year dental student, I’m still learning and growing with the guidance of some amazing faculty up in the clinics.

While I’ll never be a traceur (I need to protect my hands after all), I think it’s pretty cool what they are trying to achieve. As one traceur, Nate Slottow, put it “When you do something you were once afraid of and you master it… you are a stronger person”.

Scott Michels is a D3 student and one of the driving forces behind Give Kids a Smile, an annual event here at the School of Dentistry.  For past news stories about Give Kids a Smile, see (and notice Scott!).  For more information, email the editor at

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