Ever since I can remember, I’ve dreamed of being in the circus. I remember sitting in the audience as a kid, daydreaming about walking the tightrope and swinging from the trapeze. It seemed a lot like my gymnastics classes—only it looked like so much more fun. The only time I have ever wished fame upon myself was when the show Circus of the Stars began airing in the late 80s. (If Alyssa Milano can do it, so can I!) But just in case … When I have the chance (and an extra 60 bucks) I take trapeze classes here in NYC and pretend I still have a shot at a drastic career change.
When I was 6, I came thisclose to living out my dream. I was selected to perform with the Flying Wilendas at the Butler County Fair in Pennsylvania. I had been in gymnastics for a couple years, and could do backhandsprings until I passed out. Apparently, they thought that was cool, so I beat out all the other kids for a chance to be a clown in their show. I was psyched! All I had to do was show up, put on the baggy clown suit and have my face painted, red nose and all. So far, so good. It was the next step I had a bit of trouble with. I was told to wait for my cue, and then run out from behind the curtain and do as many handsprings as I could while Wilendas flipped and twirled high above my head. Easy stuff, right?
Apparently, not. I remember looking at my reflection in the mirror, pausing a moment, and then letting out a scream worthy of Barbara Steele (c’mon horror-flick fans). In my memory, the sight of myself painted up like a tiny version of “It” scared the hell out of me. My mom remembers it a bit differently. She says the sight of thousands of people in the audience scared the hell out of me. My dad says I was, “just being a big baby.”
Either way, I never left backstage. I cried, I took off my red nose and colorful clown suit and cried some more. Nothing anyone said could convince me to walk out onto that stage. Of course, a half a mile down the highway, I changed my mind. “I’m ready now. I can do it. Take me back. Take me back,” I said, barely audible through huffing six-year-old tears. “It’s too late,” my mom said. “You had your chance.”
Well, this past weekend, I got my second chance. Sort of.
I was in Park City, Utah, doing some pre-reporting for a Women’s Health piece and had the opportunity to try out the water ramps the U.S. ski team aerialists use for training. I have never skied in my life, and have never even stood on skis, but by the end of the day (and after a few extremely unfortunate turns that involved me skiing over my hand and once almost skiing off the ramp), I was soaring off the mini-ramp (I purposely omitted the words “with ease” here) and even landed a 360. I was psyched.
And my new friends in my Saturday morning group were so psyched for me that they selected me to perform in that afternoon’s show with The Flying Aces. I was pretty surprised they chose me, as most of them were much better, but I was also completely excited. Besides, I was going to make the professionals look gooood.
The moment totally lived up to my expectations. The show was so over the top, and the professional aerialists were amazing—16-year-old Walter Wood landed a perfectly executed flatspin quintuple-and-a-half full (my name for it). I however, did not perform to expectations. Instead of a 360, my first trick was more of a slogging run-in to a front dive. (I got a whole lot of laughs, though!) I decided to dial down my aspirations on my second trick, so after the announcer informed the crowd it was my first day on the ramps, and my first day on skis (Is it her first day on feet?) I rolled in, flew high above the ramp and performed a perfect … spread eagle. That elicited both laughs … and cheers!
The last part is what I will hold in my memory for a very long time.