Circus acrobat willing to do hair-hanging again

Two have spinal injuries after Sunday accident.
Associated Press
May 7, 2014

One of eight circus acrobats who plunged to the ground during a hair-hanging act says she wants to get back in the ring, and she's hopeful her fellow acrobats will someday return with her. But the medical team treating them said Wednesday two have spinal cord injuries, and only time will tell if they can ever walk again, let alone perform.

"I'm hoping to join back up with the tour and show the world that I'm OK, and I'm hoping some of the other girls will do the same," Samantha Pitard told The Associated Press after being released from a hospital Tuesday.

Pitard and seven other acrobats were performing an act described as a "human chandelier," hanging from an apparatus by their hair during a Sunday performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, when a clip at the top of the apparatus snapped, dropping them about 20 feet to the ground.

The other women remained at Rhode Island Hospital, where a dancer on the ground who was injured was treated and released Sunday. Several acrobats were still in intensive care, with injuries that included a laceration to the liver, broken bones and joints, and spinal fractures.

Neurosurgeon Adetokunbo Oyelese said the two most seriously injured can feel their legs but move them only minimally. While he is hopeful they will walk again, it could take one to two years before they do.

"This is going to require patience," he said.

Doctors said some of the women could be released within a few days. All will need physical therapy, which will take months, before they can perform. They have asked to be transferred to a rehabilitation facility as a team.

Orthopedic surgeon Roman Hayda said he didn't know whether the women could be acrobats again, but that the "goal is to get them there." He said the fact that the women were young and physically fit before the injuries would help their recovery.

Pitard, 23, a native of Champaign, Illinois, said she's the only one of the troupe who can walk on her own. But she said the others are in good spirits amid an outpouring of support, including get-well cards from children who witnessed the accident. About 3,900 people were in the audience.

"Every single one of us in the troupe, every single circus performer, knows that they are risking their lives every time they go out there to perform or practice," she said. "We hope it doesn't happen, but we know that we are taking that risk, and we love it enough to take that risk every day to make people happy."

Pitard said it had been a normal performance Sunday. The curtain dropped to reveal the eight women suspended in the air, but something went wrong when they did their third leg position.

"We heard just a big crack, huge noise, and then we were just plummeting to the ground," she said. "It was very fast."

The 350-pound chandelier landed on them. Pitard said crews got to them quickly to free them from the apparatus, then gave them medical attention.

"I was sitting up, and once I caught my breath, I was looking at all the girls," she said. "I wanted to know that everybody was OK. I saw my troupe leader, she was right next to me, and I heard her say that she couldn't feel her legs."

Pitard suffered fractures on her spine, a cut on her head that required three stitches and a bitten tongue.

Local investigators are turning over the broken clip and other material to federal workplace safety authorities. Fire investigator Paul Doughty said they have narrowed down the cause of the broken clip to two possibilities: a manufacturing defect or improper use.

The circus performs Thursday in Hartford, Connecticut. The hair act won't be performed there, said Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, Ringling's parent company.

Pitard said she became interested in joining the circus as a child during a camp that offered a circus program.

She later attended the New England Center for Circus Arts and learned aerial acrobat skills. She joined Ringling Bros. as a clown in November 2012 and was invited to join the specialized hair-hanging act.

"You have to have the right hair and the right weight and the right muscle," she said.

She trained for months to develop the act being performed Sunday, which has the acrobats doing spins and other moves while hanging from their hair. Her favorite part is holding two other performers up with her hair.

"It's an amazing feeling to know I'm holding two girls, two grown women, by my hair," she said. "There's just something very, very cool about it."

She said the way they're hooked into the apparatus is so secure they don't even practice with a net. She doesn't believe a net would have lessened their injuries because the apparatus still would have fallen on them.

Timothy Babineau, CEO of the hospital's parent company, on Wednesday praised the acrobats' courage and positive attitude.

"They obviously love their work," he said. "They are determined to heal as quickly as possible to get back to doing what they love."

 

Comments

worddrow811

and we need this type of entertainment because?

SamAdams

You're absolutely right, reading signs. We DON'T need entertainment that could potentially cause injury or death!

No more baseball. Those line drives are NASTY!
No more football. Those hard hits HURT!
No more figure skating. Ice is slippery -- and super hard when you fall on it!
No more action movies. Stunt men are STUPID and sometimes get hurt!
No more "Dancing With the Stars." A woman just cracked her RIBS practicing for the show!

Guess we're all going to have to start watching competitive croquet. No, wait! What if a mallet-head comes off or one of those hard wooden balls goes somewhere unintended? Someone might get HURT!

Championship Embroidery, anybody?

worddrow811

Are you kidding Sam? Those embroidery needles could put an eye out and go right into the brain. No thanks.

Being that you missed my point, I'll try again. Life has risks and we die because we are alive. Everything you listed is a spectator-watching situation for which the performers risk their lives, not yours, to 'entertain' those of you who pay money to see them take those risks.

It's called blood lust and it plays out every day somewhere. They know the risks and do it anyway. It's their choice, but they wouldn't be doing it if there were no spectators, now would they? Do you suppose Christopher Reeve aka Superman ever wished he hadn't made a decision to ride that horse?

SamAdams

Okay, you're right about the embroidery needle. Would you buy cotton ball juggling???

If your point was that life has risks, then we agree. But the second half of your contention is up for debate. Do we REALLY watch baseball only to see if the pitcher gets nailed with a line drive? Or do we watch baseball to see the spectacular catches or an amazing home run? Like you said, everything -- including simply being alive -- has risks. Who are you to suggest the major league baseball player has no business doing anything to increase his risks?

Yes, it's their choice. And it's OUR choice whether or not we want to watch somebody do something most of us don't have the nerve (much less the talent) to do! As for Christopher Reeve, well, every interview that I read where he was asked that question was answered with an unequivocal "no regrets." Me? I'm inclined to believe he really WAS Superman! I'm not getting on a jumping horse anytime soon, mind you, but I'd never disparage his desires or his abilities to do what he wanted to do and what he COULD do until the day he couldn't!

Life without risk means...well, wrapping yourself up in bubble wrap and hoping your house doesn't burn down around you. As far as I'm concerned (and I suspect most people agree with me!), that's no life at all. If these circus acrobats want to climb up a cable again, that's none of my business, nor yours. And if I want to buy a ticket and admire their courage and their grace, that's neither your business nor your problem, either.

worddrow811

Apparently you just want to argue so have at it. I am not suggesting anything and where you come up with that is a mystery. Your business is your business and I don't give a hoover dam what anyone thinks of my opinion, as I've stated many times. If you and everyone else, wants to take risks with their lives, fine by me. Let me know how it works out.

Nemesis

No, she's responding to the implicit point of your original question. That question is just verbal diarrhea without the implied assertion that entertainment of such a risky nature is inapropriate and should not be available.

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