Work Injuries at the Circus

Florida circus performers hurt in dramatic high-wire fall

Five Florida circus performers suffered serious work injuries on Feb 8 while practicing for an upcoming show. The injured performers, part of Circus Sarasota, were attempting a human pyramid walk across a tightrope. It is an act which requires all participants to have perfect balance. Unfortunately, several performers among the eight practicing the stunt did lose balance. The victims fell anywhere between 20 to 30 feet to solid ground.

One of the performers involved Nik Wallenda, known as the King of the Wire for his long list of daredevil acts. He was one of three on the highwire who did not fall during the accident, managing to grab onto the tightrope to save himself. In an interview after the accident, Nik described it as “the roughest day of my life.”

While none of the work injuries were immediately classified as life threatening, one victim suffered a traumatic brain injury.

A profession of danger and reward

For the Circus Sarasota performers, there was no safety net. Additionally, none of the performers were using a tether to the tightrope. In a statement to the press, Pedro Ruis, CEO and founder of the Sarasota Circus Arts Conservatory, the rigging that held the tight rope was not responsible for the accident, but rather that the performers lost balance.

To anyone who has watched a circus performance, the risks the performers take are obvious. There is little margin for error on a tightrope, a trapeze, or a Wheel of Death. So the question must come up: why not take the obvious safety precautions? Why not minimize the risks of such dramatic work injuries as much as possible?

Some performers explain that part of the spectacle is the lack safety. Many of Nik Wallenda’s famous exploits have clearly embraced this. He has hung from a rope by his teeth. He has tight roped across the Grand Canyon, with no safety net, or harness tethered to the rope.

However, in a previous tightrope walk across Niagra Falls, Wallenda was forced to wear a harness by the television network involved with the event. He’d promised to take off the harness only if it became a legitimate hazard during the walk.

Assuming the risks

The Wallenda family is not unfamiliar to tragedy on the tightrope. Family patriarch Karl Wallenda fell to his death in 1978 during a high wire act in Puerto Rico, and he is only one among many performers who have died, or suffered serious injury trying to dazzle audiences around the world.

The accident at Circus Sarasota happened in the lead up to the show’s opening performances. All the performers are professionals, assuming great risks, and trusting the equipment they have to not fail them. Despite the intense focus and training, an accident is always possible, and on that day it happened. The work injuries sustained here will likely keep the victims off the wire for weeks or months.

“The show must go on,” Pedro Ruis said during a press conference. And the show will go on, for this and all other circuses around the world. Brave men and women will continue putting their lives on the line, on the high-wire, for our entertainment.

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