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Ride ’em, Cowgirl! Getting Back on the Horse after a Circus Injury or Scare

Duo Nexus EditA while back, Angela (my aerial partner) and I were running the release-catches in our duo act during the tech for a gig. The live-feed camera guy was trying out his equipment, and presumably wanted to test some angles for close shots. He thought it would be a great idea to shoot from underneath us. The other performers were running to grab him and tell him that it was, in fact, a terrible idea, but it was too late – his motion broke our concentration at just the right (wrong?) time, and we missed our catch. Down down down I came, and landed feet first on the stage.

As far as falls go, it wasn’t that far; as far as landings go, it was pretty good (I like to think that I even struck a graceful pose at the bottom). I came out of it with a nice sprain on one ankle, and a nasty little hitchhiker: a slap-you-upside-the-head strong mental block. Once my ankle had healed, and we were running our act again, I can still remember the progression. I would be fine right up until the two moves before the fateful catch/release. Then, the blood would start pounding in my ears, adrenaline would shoot through my body, I would start to shake, and then… nothing. I couldn’t proceed. It was as if my body just flat out refused to go there ever again. Never mind the fact that I KNEW my body’s reaction was way overblown. This fear just wouldn’t listen to reason.

If you haven’t experienced any injury or scare, great! If you think you never could or will, you’re wrong. I actually heard someone say the other day that your body won’t allow your grip to fail, that some primal self-preservation instinct takes over. Please know that that is completely stupid and 100% wrong. Your grip can indeed fail. Your concentration can falter. You can fall down. In fact, everyone who trains long enough will have a scary moment (the kind that makes you pee just a little). What comes after depends a great deal on what happened, whether you were injured, your personal fear threshold, etc. You may even find yourself where I did (and where I still often find myself when I’m training scary things on wheel). Here are a couple of things that have started things moving again (geez, sounds like a laxative commercial….)

  1. Say “thank you” to your fear. Not to get all woo-woo on you, but acknowledging that the fear is there to try to keep you safe can take it from a place of shame or frustration (“Stupid fear! WHY can’t I not be scared??!!!”) and  give it a bit of status (“Ah! My self-preservation instinct is kicking in!”). In the interest of being completely honest, I really struggle with forgiving my fear, especially when it is standing between me and training success. So, onto step 2….
  2. Step back into the driver’s seat. Fear, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to ride shotgun. Moving into a pro-active place allows you to feel some control again, and believe me – fear and feeling helpless go hand in hand. Any step you can take towards owning your training will diminish the sensation of fear.
  3. Go back to the beginning. Take the scary move all the way back to the beginning. There is no point that can be considered too early – whatever works for you. Try to find the earliest possible place that doesn’t produce debilitating fear. Now stay there until you’re ready to add the next teeny tiny step.
  4. Break the pattern. A fear response can become habitual, cued by a physical progression. Fear not letting up? Change the way you get into something if possible. When we changed the transition into the move, my fear habit didn’t get it’s usual cues and was lessened considerably.
  5. De-sensitize with time and repetition. Once you’ve started revisiting those micro-movements, stay with each one until something in you “leans into it” – really wants to go forward. Don’t give yourself a weird, arbitrary time table – don’t rush. Fear is not rational, and you can’t think it away (I’ve tried). The fear part of your brain and the rational part of your brain don’t really talk. (Thank you, Miss Alice!) Let time and repetition soothe the scared part, and use the rational bits of your brain to cheer you on.
  6. Trust your coach (maybe). Truth? I have a HORRIBLE time doing this. It is so foreign to me to trust someone else with my safety – even someone who, time and time again, has saved my butt from Certain Doom. Trust is built slowly (and destroyed quickly, but that’s another post). If you believe, after careful thought and observation, that a teacher is worthy of your trust, go for it. The more you can trust them, the more they can help you – the more you can give up and give over. Feel the fear, and do it anyway.
  7. Ask yourself – what’s the worst that can happen? Sometimes, the answer is “horrible things. Don’t fuck it up.” Sometimes, the answer is “nothing terrible”! Here’s a fun infographic & post from Chris Delgado on this.
  8. Leave it. You heard me. If you’re being tortured by a particular move, ask yourself: is it worth it? Can I just not do that move? Is it essential to progress to other things I want to do? If you can’t leave it, see steps 1-7. If it’s making you miserable and you can set it aside, even for just a little while, I hereby give you permission if you’re having trouble giving it to yourself. There are SO MANY things to do on any given apparatus – it’s OK to ease up if that’s what you need.


Eventually, Angela and I put a few modifications into the move that allowed me to feel safe again, and off we went into the sunset. But, I deal with fear all the time. All the time. Healthy brains have a vested interest in keeping your body safe. You can’t ignore or deny the fear, so acknowledge and work with it. Wishing you all SAFE training with only the fear you need to keep you gorgeous and intact (but not enough to make you pee)! Love and pull-ups, Laura


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4 comments on “Ride ’em, Cowgirl! Getting Back on the Horse after a Circus Injury or Scare”

  1. Lililie Reply

    First off, thanks for the speedy response! I was expecting to wait weeks to see a reply let alone a post! You’re an awesome person…just sayin’…
    Second, it makes at least me personally to see someone put an almost humorous spin on something that I’m sure everyone who does circus is afraid of at some point. I can’t wait to go to class tomorrow to start to work on this again!

  2. Daffodil Reply

    Thanks for the timely post. I’m dealing with a pair of trapeze moves that I’ve fallen out of several times (not bad falls, but losing your balance while upside down is scary), and they’ve been threatening to turn into a brain-block. So far my strategy is to do the moves at least once per class. To keep myself from backing out, I ask the teacher to bring down the little kid trapeze for me to practice on. Letting the class know I intend to practice those moves is enough to make me actually get up there and do them. It’s getting better.

  3. Sarah Reply

    Hi! I dealt with something like this not long ago. I had the freakiest of freak accidents a while ago with a drop I was super familiar with, where the tail whipped round and got stuck in my wrap as I was coming down, and it trapped me, struggling to breathe, up in the air until my coach climbed up a ladder and managed to undo the mess! What really scared me was that it wasn’t mistake I could fix, just a freaky thing that had happened for no real reason. For the first time I was nervous about aerials rather than looking forward to it, and it was in my routine for my first ever comp so I couldn’t just leave the move without changing the routine. I dealt with it by doing the basic version of the drop a heap of times before working up to the barrel roll version that had trapped me, and eventually it was ok. I still get a bit nervous doing that drop though and I might always do!

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Oh Sarah – that’s awful! Freak accidents can be so scary for exactly that reason – they just happen. Good for you for working back up to it!!!!

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