When I was six years old, my mom sat down with me and explained that we lived in a circus town. She told me some of the history of the circus in Peru and that my cousin, Dottie, had been in it for a couple of years. But it was what she said next that changed my life. She asked me if I wanted to be IN the circus. Of course, I said YES!
And so it began…10 years of devoting five months of my time each year, including every summer, to the Peru Amateur Circus. My first couple of years I was in Double Swinging Ladders. I was so fortunate to be trained by Tom and Betty Hodgini. By no means an easy act, the Swinging Ladders swung six feet in the air while the performers did tricks, including hanging upside down by one foot. I was terrified of that trick. Just a week before final cuts, Betty came to me and said, “If you can’t do that trick, you won’t make the act. You have natural talent and you must overcome your fear.” The next day at practice I asked to be the first to go up--I wanted to conquer that trick. And guess what – I made the act!
I loved being in the circus. It was like a big family. Right away I was in awe of the trapeze acts. I
asked my mom to get me a trapeze to practice on at home, like the ones they had at the circus building. On my birthday that year, Dottie’s dad brought me a REAL trapeze that he had made. He made a lot of the trapezes for the circus and was I lucky to have him as my uncle. Once that trapeze was hung on the tree in our front yard, that was where I spent all my time. Mom even put an old mattress underneath it in case I fell.
When I was almost 11, I decided I wanted to try out for different acts. I tried out for five acts, but we were only allowed to make three. I made Side-by-Side Trapeze with my partner, Beverly. We did tricks on the low bar and up on the ropes on a still double trapeze. I was fortunate to be trained by Willie Wilno, who used to be a human cannonball. I was also in Balancing Bike. The driver would ride around in a circle as the performers mounted the bike and did tricks. Because I’d become fearless, mine was to stand on his shoulders. The last act I made was Adagio, where I climbed all over my partner doing flips off him, wrap arounds and lifts. I even got to go on road shows and perform on “Bozo’s Circus.” What kid doesn’t dream about that? As much as I loved all these acts, I had my eye on something bigger…and higher.
I wanted to try out for Low Casting. It’s a lower version of High Flying. Performers swing out on a trapeze, go into a trick and are caught by a catcher. I’d been practicing a lot at home – swinging out and letting go, landing on my mattress. I was ready to take that step.
At 12, I experienced death close-up for the first time when my Grandpa died. I went through my
father’s fight with alcoholism and the court hearing that would send him to prison on his 14th DUI. We were moving out of the house where my trapeze was since my parents were getting a divorce. The circus had now become something more for me--it was an escape. When I made Low Casting, I thought it was the best thing that could happen to me - I was a flyer!
That year and the next I was in Low Casting, Balancing Bike and Single Swinging Ladders. One of the most exciting things to me was that all three acts were performed in the center ring. During those two years I overcame so much. Being a part of the circus gave me confidence and a sense of self-worth.
In 1977 I became a member of the “Flying Freebirds” Trapeze act – the act that closed every show and was the dream of every young child in the circus. My first year in the act, my idol – a girl named Bo - attempted a double somersault with a full twist. Every show for 10 shows she’d get three chances. It was so nerve wracking for all of us each time she’d miss. On her third attempt at the final show, she and the catcher grabbed hands and everyone in the arena exploded into cheers and applause. It is one of the most exciting moments in my entire life to this day.
I flew for three years. It was hard work and we practiced every night for three hours. My last year in flying, we were practicing a trick called “Passing Leap.” The catcher caught me by my legs and as he turned me to go back to the trapeze, my partner did a somersault over me and grabbed the catcher as he released me to the bar. Just two weeks before the shows were to open, my partner came out of his somersault early and kicked me in the back, sending me hurtling toward the ground. I missed the net altogether. A spotter under the net caught the top half of my body. My heels hit the cement, crushing bones in both heels. The spotter and I both bruised our tailbones, but she saved my life. I still performed in the shows that year, but we never did the “Passing Leap” again.
That was my tenth year in the circus and I was 16. Suddenly other things demanded my attention – my boyfriend, my car, my friends, school activities. I’d missed cheerleading camp the year before for circus. I wanted to have that new experience, so I left the circus that summer. I took so many friendships and memories with me. I’m not sure I’d have survived that 10 years without the circus. So if you have children and you live in Miami County – let your children join the circus! There aren’t too many who ever have that chance. And when they’re older and someone asks them something no one would ever guess about them, they can say like I can, “I was a flyer in flying trapeze in the circus!”