The Backyard celebrates five years of parkour fun

An alternative fitness playground’s founders are looking ahead to the next few years.

As an alternative fitness playground prepares to celebrate its fifth birthday, its founders are looking ahead to the next few years.

When Sarah and Zach Ruggenberg started The Backyard Whidbey, their aim was to provide accessible indoor fitness for the whole family. As the parents of three young boys, the couple wanted to include them in their movement, but found this wasn’t possible in a traditional gym setting.

So they started The Backyard, a mashup of physical activity and play for kids and adults alike at the South Whidbey Community Center in Langley. Though its nonprofit status was established in 2017, The Backyard did not open its doors until 2018.

This Saturday, June 17, the public is invited to its fifth anniversary party, which runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Laser tag and dodgeball are among the activities, with an all-ages session earlier in the day and an adults-only session later in the day. A chunk of time will be dedicated to a showcase of all the different programs The Backyard offers, in addition to a light-hearted movement challenge. Food and raffle tickets will be available.

Event tickets are $25 for individuals and $50 for families, and can be purchased online by visiting Participants must fill out a waiver ahead of time and wear comfortable clothes they can play in.

The birthday party is a fundraiser for The Backyard, which will soon be undergoing a remodeling project this summer as part of the organization’s three-year strategic plan. Starting out, the renovation will focus on building infrastructure, such as a loft where parents can hang out and watch their kids during classes. Sarah Ruggenberg said the addition of this loft will also double the square footage available for birthday parties; The Backyard currently occupies roughly 3,000 square feet in the former Langley Middle School gym.

“People who are familiar with The Backyard are most excited about this,” she said of the remodel.

The latter part of the renovation – during the next two summers – will focus on updating equipment, such as a mechanical climbing wall and a larger warped wall. Fundraising will be ongoing.

Another fundraiser event, the Silly Walk Parade through Langley, takes place 1-3 p.m. on July 22. The family-friendly event encourages participants to dress up as silly as possible and invite their friends. Pre-registration is $10 per person, $20 per family and $25 the day of registration. More information is available at

Donations to The Backyard can be made through its Give Butter page, by visiting the website or by mail to 723 Camano Avenue, Langley, WA 98260.

The Backyard has experienced immense change since its opening five years ago.

“What’s amazing is through COVID we grew to having a staff of eight paid part-time people,” Sarah Ruggenberg said.

During the pandemic, the organization sent youth programs into hibernation. Programs for adults went online through a coaching app and through Zoom. The first summer COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, a series of beach movement classes took place outdoors around Whidbey.

This year’s focus has been on youth programs.

“We’ve been around long enough that one of Zach’s very first parkour students is now a coach for us, which is really, really cool,” Sarah said.

A program for adults, however, is one of the organization’s longest running. Backyard Kettlebells – coach-led group training and instruction in the basics of kettlebells and movement – takes place 5-6 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. For $10 a class, adults can come do strength training while their kids can participate in open play on the equipment.

“It’s almost like this inverse where the kids are begging you to play on this big playground, and you’re in the corner working out,” Sarah said with a laugh.

From the very beginning, The Backyard has been intentional about remaining affordable for families of modest means. They work with people all the time who may not otherwise be able to afford classes, or even birthday parties, for their kids at the alternative fitness playground. Families can participate in some sweat-equity – providing cleaning duties in exchange for the full cost of a party, for example. The nonprofit also has a monthly “Play It Forward Fund” that donors can contribute to in order to reduce costs for participants.

“We just didn’t want finances to be a hurdle,” Sarah said.

In addition, The Backyard is looking to invite and partner with members of the BIPOC community, which stands for Black, indigenous and people of color. If interested, they can learn how to complete the certification process to become a fitness coach, free of charge, and work off the cost by being an instructor for The Backyard.

For more information about The Backyard, visit

Photo provided