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We're all used to walking on the ground,
but imagine if you could use the rooftops as your highway!
Imagine if you could jump from building to building,
balance on anything, you would be a superhero.
A superhero like Catwoman,
who uses her cat-like reflexes, balance,
and flexibility to fight evil.
But I've heard of a real person with unbelievable agility,
a woman with supreme balance who always lands on her feet.
A real-life Catwoman.
Luci Romberg became a champion gymnast
when she was just a teenager, but didn't stop there.
Luci took to the streets to learn the art of free running.
She became so incredibly daring and agile
that she was soon spotted by movie makers.
Luci now works as a stuntwoman in Hollywood.
Tim has travelled all the way to California in the USA
to find out if Luci is a real-life Catwoman.
Wow, Luci, I'm so excited to meet you. Are you Catwoman?
You know what? I try to be,
I just like jumping around and having fun, so...
For anyone who's not seen free running before,
can you just give us a very brief outline of what free running is?
Yeah, sure, so basically, free running is about efficient
movement, getting from point A to point B as fast as you can,
and adding flips and style and creative movements.
I consider myself a free runner just cos I like to flip.
Would you be up for doing three Super Tests so that we can see your
amazing abilities, and to see just how like Catwoman you really are?
-It sounds awesome!
-Let's do it!
This is Dr Megan John.
She's an expedition doctor and has kept people alive while they've
attempted some of the most dangerous activities you can imagine.
She's created three Super Tests to try and find out
what makes Luci Romberg so special.
Wow! What is this place?
Well, Tim, I brought you and Luci to the Tempest Free Running Academy.
It's where people like Luci come to train
and study how to do free running.
Free running is extremely dangerous, it involves jumping, leaping,
landing, flipping and spinning in mid-air over streets
and buildings. It would be easy to land badly and break something.
Because of the risks involved,
Dr Megan has chosen the Free Running Academy for Super Test One,
as it's got special springy floors for landing.
One of the really important things about free running is
the ability to land from heights.
You're not afraid of heights, are you, Tim?
Well, I don't like heights, but, you know... Why?
Super Test One is going to test how hard Tim and Luci land
while jumping from different heights.
They're going to start by jumping from a block almost a metre high.
The next block they jump from will be twice as high.
And finally, if Dr Megan thinks it's safe, they will jump
from a wall standing an incredibly dangerous three metres high.
-Do you think you're willing to give it a go?
-Yeah, sounds fun.
When you land, your feet push down on the ground
and the ground pushes back on your feet.
This pushing is called force.
Dr Megan will be using special equipment called
accelerometers to measure the force that goes through Luci
and Tim's bodies when they hit the ground.
When you take a really big jump, so big impact, which I can measure by
just wiggling it here, you see I get a really big change on the graph.
-I'm going to be attaching one to your ankle
and one to your lower back, and we'll see how your bodies cope.
Are they the two areas that take the most impact? The ankles and back?
Exactly, and if the force is too great, then you could risk breaking
a bone, so I need to see exactly how much force you're getting.
I also have a slow-motion camera that I'm going to be
pointing at you guys when you do your landing.
That means I can look at it all in really slow motion in more
detail and see how different areas of your body are moving
to cushion your landing.
The higher up you jump from,
the more likely you are to hurt yourself.
If you don't land properly, you could sprain your ankles or knees.
If you land on a hard surface like concrete, you could break
a bone or even damage your spine. This could leave you paralysed.
With a really bad landing, you could hit your head
and possibly injure your brain, and you could die.
One metre high for the first challenge. Are you ready to go, Tim?
I'm ready to go. Let's do this.
Even if you are lucky enough to have a special springy floor at home,
don't try this - you could hurt yourself!
-So are you ready, Tim?
-How did that feel?
-I just sort of went really rigid.
Yeah, you let your chest drop a little bit
so you might have a little bit more impact on your back.
So looking at the data from the one metre jump you did, Tim,
I can see already there's a lot of pressure going
through your ankles, your knees and your lower back.
Tim's bad landing means a lot of force went through his body.
When you land after a jump, the force of the landing travels
up through your bones, into your legs, and up into your back.
At the end of each bone, there's a hard, slippery substance
and it's called cartilage.
The cartilage is filled with squishy gel which acts like a cushion,
stopping your bones banging together and getting damaged.
But if you land very hard,
the cartilage isn't thick enough to stop your bones from breaking.
So, Luci, you're all rigged up with equipment and ready to go.
-Are you happy?
-Yeah, of course.
Luci, you made that look so easy and elegant.
It was amazing watching the landing cos you landed and went right down,
and you even used your hands, it seems, to take some of the force.
Yes, so I mean, basically, my idea was to spread it out
through my entire body so that everything was taking the impact.
Whereas I just landed on my toes and everything else went rigid.
I've already got the data from your jump, Luci, and comparing it to
Tim, I can see that your body's taking a lot less impact,
a lot less force is running through your ankles and your lower back.
Tim's landing put a lot of force on his body.
The next jump is twice as high.
If Tim doesn't land more softly, he could really hurt himself here.
And I must remember that when you landed from one metre,
you went right down, so I'm going to try that.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, just land as quietly and softly as you can.
-The less impact the better, right?
-Yeah, the less impact the better.
-You got it. You can do it.
This jump is about the height of your front door.
Now, that is really high!
If Tim doesn't land well here, he could easily break a bone.
The forces through your body will be twice what they were before, Tim.
How did that feel, Tim?
Yeah, I made it. It wasn't that clean, I think we'd say.
-I think it was great!
Especially for your first time, I thought it was really good.
-Well, I didn't injure myself, that's a win.
-Yeah, I'm a winner!
Despite Tim's new technique,
this landing put a dangerous amount of force through his body.
But Luci is used to jumping from much higher.
And three, two, one.
Whoa! That was cool.
And Dr Megan's graph shows that her incredible roll has
cushioned her landing.
Tim, your body is taking a lot of force going through your ankles
and your lower back.
Luci, I'm still happy that your body is coping with this really well.
It must be your technique.
As you fall through the air, you get faster and faster.
So the higher the jump, the faster you'll be travelling
when you hit the ground.
The next jump in Super Test One is a terrifying three metres high.
If Tim wants to attempt it, he needs to need to learn Luci's technique.
Basically, what we do is, we aim with our shoulder,
we call it a PK or a shoulder roll.
So we aim with our shoulder, you want to keep your chest down.
I use my arms too to cushion my body, too.
OK, so you're in control of everything right the way through
that, aren't you? From the minute you're there,
to the minute you're standing up again.
I try. You want to try it? Practice makes perfect, right?
-There you go, good.
-That felt good.
-How that feel?
-That felt really good. Yeah, that's really good.
I felt I rolled across, across...
Yeah, you didn't hit your head or your spine.
-No, I didn't hit my head at all!
Performing a roll like this allows you to spread
the force of landing over your whole body.
When you're falling fast and land on your feet,
your body stops very suddenly.
This puts the greatest amount of force on the bones
and cartilage in your legs and spine.
But when you land with a roll,
your body keeps moving and then slows down gradually.
This allows your body to spread the force.
Your legs take some of the force first.
Then your hands, your shoulder and your back take the rest.
So, Tim, are you ready to go?
Yeah, let me get this right in my head.
Land on my toes, roll, go.
Tim is going to attempt the jump again using Luci's roll technique,
but if he can't reduce the force,
Dr Megan will not allow him to jump from three metres.
-So on my count.
Three, two, one,
Well, it's not graceful.
Yeah, he's spot-on, it's certainly not graceful,
but has it reduced the force in his legs and back?
So I've got the differences in the data between
when you did the jump with and without the roll.
The roll certainly reduced the impact
and the forces on your joints, but even with that, I'm not happy
for you to do this at three metres, Tim.
I think there's a very real risk that you could break some bones.
So, Luci, this one's just for you.
Yeah, let's do it.
The final jump is an incredible three metres high
and a fall from this height could kill you.
Don't try this at home. Remember, Dr Megan has chosen
the Free Running Academy because it's got those special,
springy floors for landing.
-Are you ready to go?
-So on my count.
Three, two, one.
Whoa! Amazingly, from such an unbelievable height,
Luci flies through the air, landing in the perfect roll.
Oh, Luci, fantastic.
It's incredible that you managed to not only to deal with that height,
but you do it so gracefully, too. So even at three metres, the force
going through your body, Luci, is less than Tim showed at two.
I wonder if that's your training, or if it's how your body's built.
So, how does Luci do it?
To land perfectly, you need to begin your roll at the exact
split second your feet start to touch the ground.
So when you jump, your eyes look to the ground and send messages to
your brain, and it tries to work how far and how fast you're falling.
But most of us get it wrong because
we can't time our landings precisely enough.
Luci has years of being a gymnast, so her brain has practised
and learnt to time her roll down to a fraction of a second.
All the data suggests that Luci's skeleton, her muscles, her tendons,
her ligaments, have adapted to let her deal with such high forces.
Actually, Luci can jump from rooftops.
If an average person jumped off a rooftop,
the force going through their joints when they landed would be
so great it could break bones, but Luci's no normal human.
My landings might not be up to much, but for one person,
her ability to land from heights saved her life.
World champion paraglider Ewa Wisnierska
was practising in Australia.
She was sucked into a thunderstorm and thrown six miles into the air.
Unable to breathe properly,
she passed out in ice-cold temperatures, 40 degrees below zero.
As the paraglider began hurtling to the ground, she woke up.
Realising she was falling, Ewa focused quickly.
Incredibly, her experience and fast reactions meant
she managed to land safely from a height higher than Mount Everest.
From certain death, Ewa escaped with only frostbite and swollen legs.
Tim and Luci have headed over to the beach
for Dr Megan's next Super Test.
Tim, to be a free runner, you've got to have great balance and agility,
so do you think you've got the balance
and the cat-like ability to get across this bar?
-And, Luci, I'm guessing you're going to make this look easy.
I think it's going to be fun.
When you balance on something really narrow, your brain needs to
work extra hard to control all your different muscles.
So in this Super Test, Dr Megan is going to be looking at what's
going on in Tim and Luci's brains.
It's quite hard for me to tell from looking at you two from the outside,
what's going on inside your brains
and how hard you're having to concentrate.
So I've got some really exciting equipment with me today,
which I'll be fitting the two of you with
and I'll be seeing how you manage each of the challenges I've set.
The equipment is going to measure the different types
of electrical signals being sent out by your brain to your body.
So if you're concentrating really hard to complete one of the
challenges I've set you, I'm going to see the red line go higher.
These bars aren't normally used for balancing on,
but we've had expert help and used safety equipment to make sure the
test is done safely, because a fall from even a low height is dangerous.
Balancing on a narrow beam is tricky, and it's even harder
when it's high up.
If your foot slips, you could land on the beam and get bruises,
cuts or grazes. Losing your balance
and landing heavily on the ground could break a bone.
If you fall backwards, your back could land on the beam
and really damage your spine, possibly leaving you unable to walk.
Or you could fall and hit your head hard, which could knock you out
or cause concussion. And concussion can be fatal.
The first challenge is to crawl along the beam, and Tim's up first.
So already, even at the low level of the bar,
the red part of the graph went higher.
That means he's already having to concentrate quite hard
to do the challenge.
The information I'm getting from his band is supporting what
I thought was going to happen.
He's really focusing and if you can see that graph,
the line's jumped right up.
-How did that feel?
-I really enjoyed the balance
but I do feel like I'm constantly trying to control muscles
and keep going and keep balanced and stay on the thing.
Even from here, I could see you were having to concentrate a lot harder.
-But I've got some great data which supports that.
So, as soon as you got onto that bar, there was a real peak
in activity and it stayed high for the whole time.
And if you look here, where you came off, immediately you became
Tim's brain needed to work really hard
to keep him balanced on the bar.
To balance, you use information from your eyes and your inner ears.
When you start to wobble, your eyes and ears send signals to eight
pea-sized areas in the middle of your brain
called the vestibular nuclei.
These nuclei work out if you are moving and in which direction.
If you are falling, they will quickly send signals to your muscles
to move your body and try to steady yourself.
Balancing on something narrow takes a lot of brain power.
So, Luci, you're up next. It's going to be really interesting to see how
your data compares to Tim's.
So barely any change at all in the graph with her.
Whoa, Luci is fast.
Now, that's just showing off.
-How you feeling, Luci?
So we've got the data to have a look at.
It's really interesting cos Tim's was high throughout the whole thing.
You took that as if you were just walking in the park!
The next part of Super Test Two
is even more difficult than the last one.
So what will Tim think about it?
I'm not entirely happy about this.
This is way thinner than it was before to balance on,
and there's a huge big jump at the end,
neither of which look like I'm going to be able to do them.
I've got to be honest, I don't think I'm going to do too well,
-but I'm going to try.
-Tim, you happy to go?
Tim's fallen off, but he's not giving up.
-It's harder to interpret but...
He's getting a lot more confident.
See what happens as soon as he takes his hand off.
Yep, a little spike there.
Oh, dear! Tim is very unstable and in real danger of hurting himself.
It just shows, you really have to be good at this free running thing.
I totally clattered my shin on that thin metal bar.
I've now got a bit of a cut there, and possibly
a bit of a bruise coming, as well.
Tim's sixth attempt.
Every time he's doing this, he's letting another surge of
adrenalin go, he's getting tireder
and tireder and, actually, therefore the risk is higher and higher.
When you're high up, your brain knows you could fall.
So it makes your body release a chemical called adrenaline.
Adrenaline makes your heart pump faster, your lungs work harder,
and your muscles tense up so that your body is ready to
run away from danger.
But when you're trying to balance, you don't need to run,
and too much adrenaline could make your muscles start to shake,
making it even more difficult to balance.
OK, next one.
Now I've got to jump across to the wall.
-Well done, Tim!
-You didn't make it look easy.
It's not that easy, it's really not that easy.
It's very, very thin. The balancing, I was rubbish at that.
I tried really hard, I kept going up and I kept trying it.
The jumping - really like the jumping. That was great.
OK, so Tim completed the test in six attempts, but he used a lot of
brain power and cut his shin. Can Luci do any better?
I'm looking forward to seeing how Luci copes.
-Are you ready, Luci?
-In your own time.
Ah, this is more like it.
Luci is perfectly balanced on the bar, and lands softly on the wall.
Whoa, tiny wobble, there.
But she's definitely showing incredibly agility.
She's not going to fall.
Luci did you even notice you were doing that?
It was fun, if that's what you're asking.
You hardly reacted at all on your line, not at all surprisingly.
And now you're back here, of course. You're more stressed
-being in my presence than you were doing the challenge.
It was amazing to see how effortless Super Test Two was for Luci.
With poise and grace, she breezed through the test. Top marks!
Megan's balancing challenge was tough,
but some people do this sort thing for, well, honey.
The Bayaka tribe live in the forests of Central Africa
where sweet things are so rare,
people are willing to risk their lives collecting honey.
When a beehive is spotted,
tribesmen climb trees up to 40 metres high to reach it.
They use incredible cat-like balancing to
walk along the highest branches without ropes or a harness.
On reaching the hive, tribesmen scoop out the honeycomb.
And despite being stung by angry swarms of bees,
they are agile enough to make it safely back down to the bottom of
the tree and enjoy their well-earned honey feast with their family.
Super Test Three, I've brought the two of you to
Pershing Square in Downtown LA.
It's a favourite location for free runners.
You'll see it in movies, even on computer games.
I want to see what you've learnt, Tim, from Super Test One and Two,
and Luci, it's going to give you a chance to show us your skills.
So I've set up a course all around the square.
In order to complete the course, you'll need to
use your landings to absorb the shock
and your balance to get over the obstacles.
Normally, Luci jumps from great heights,
but we can't expect Tim to do that safely, so the course that
Dr Megan's designed is low-level. But there are still some tricky
challenges, so you shouldn't try anything like this at home!
They'll start with a long, narrow wall, then
they'll have a cannon, a concrete square, several more walls,
a flower pot, and end here at the stone ball.
-Do you think you can do that, Tim?
-Yeah, it'll be fun!
-Well, let's go then!
Free runners are judged on how creative their moves are,
how difficult their moves are, how well they perform their moves,
and how well they manage to keep moving smoothly.
Tim and Luci will each try their best to free run the course
following these goals.
The best free runners are always really respectful of other
people's property. So, basically,
don't go wrecking your neighbour's back garden.
Up first is Tim.
Three, two, one, go!
OK, so Tim has to navigate his way along this very narrow wall.
He's really having to focus to keep his balance.
So he's gone off the balance challenge.
We've got the first big jump coming up.
Tim did clear the cannon, but I don't think he'd score much for
creativity or the difficulty of this move.
So, big peak there of the pressure on his ankles.
Tim goes through the concrete square with absolutely no flair.
Come on, Tim!
He's looking really tired,
he's really having to focus coming over this jump.
Woo! that was quite a cool roll he pulled off, there,
going over the wall. It was a bit clumsy but it would
get him some points in a free running competition. Well done.
Tim's now concentrating more on speed than performing
difficult moves, as he legs it round the course marker.
He's on the home straight.
He's coming up to the large plant pot,
will he be able to include it into his free running?
No, he's bottled it, not taking the chance to land on it,
which could have been a cool free running move!
Tim's on the final straight now. Keep going, Tim.
You're doing really well!
It's a clean jump over the gap,
but has he got a big finale up his sleeve?
Oh. Not quite.
-Fantastic! Well done, Tim. How are you?
Get yourself up, so that you get good lots of air into your lungs.
I'm pretty tired. The last landing was bad, absolutely horrific.
I landed on my heels, I jarred everything. That was bad.
You landed heel-heavy.
It really was heavy, it was like "doof," you know. But good.
I think you gave it a pretty good shot,
but, Luci, are you going to show him how it should really have been done?
-I hope so, I don't know, he did pretty good!
Although Tim kept moving and tried a flashy forward roll,
he wouldn't have got many points for creativity
and he didn't attempt any really difficult moves.
What will Luci give us?
Three, two, one and go!
Whoa, straightaway, and Luci shows off her cat-like balancing skills.
So already, we can see that Luci's barely having to think to get
over the balance challenge, she's speeding through it!
She's not just quick, she's composed and in complete control.
She's coming up for that first landing that we saw
Tim take quite hard.
Luci's cannon leap is extremely impressive
and would gain her points for being tricky and smoothly done!
The G-force going through her ankles
is barely half of what we saw on Tim's.
She moves effortlessly over every obstacle, and then, from nowhere...
She's thrown in a flip!
That's a classic free running move!
It's creative, difficult, elegant and beautifully performed.
And there's more!
Another amazing flip, followed by an incredible leap.
She is looking so comfortable, and on the home straight.
The plant pot is ahead, Tim chose to run straight past it.
But Luci goes over the top of it to keep her speed up.
And a truly heroic leap over the gap in the wall.
It's coming up to that final jump that Tim really struggled with.
She's almost finished the course now,
can she throw in one last flourish?
Oh, yes! She spins in mid-air and lands magnificently.
Wow! That was incredible, absolutely incredible!
-How do you feel?
I came looking for a real-life superhero, a Catwoman
who could jump from heights and not get hurt.
I found her. Luci Romberg, you are superhuman!
It's been amazing to meet you, incredible to learn all about
-Thank you. I had such a fun time, this was awesome.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Tim Fitzhigham meets the humans who defy science and puts their powers to the test - against himself. Tim meets Luci Romberg, an elite free runner, champion gymnast and Hollywood stuntwoman. Does Luci's amazing agility and balance make her a real-life Catwoman? Tim challenges Luci to three super tests in order to prove, or disprove, these gravity-defying superhuman powers.
Can Tim absorb the shock of jumping from great heights at an elite free-running academy in the USA or flip, spin and land safety around a downtown Los Angeles movie location? This is exactly as dangerous as it sounds, so Tim uses state-of-the-art technology, real medical science and his very own mission doctor as he prepares for his challenges.
Is Luci Romberg a real-life Catwoman? Be prepared to be amazed by Super Human Challenge!