(I started writing this to write about the return to flying well rather than the fall. But this part came out long enough as is, and I’ll put the rest into another post.)
I few months ago I hurt my shoulder on the trapeze. Well, falling off the trapeze, actually. And it’s probably more like 4 months ago, but who’s counting? It wasn’t a bad fall or a bad injury. My rotator cuff muscles complained and my arm ached for weeks. But still it counted as an irritating setback rather than a scary or serious injury.
In hindsight, I can see that this fall was exactly like the last time I did something scary and fell to the net. In both cases the underlying problem had been identified by the instructors repeatedly. In both cases I understood I should fix the problem. But in neither case did I understand that fixing the problem was a safety issue.
In this case the manoeuver is known as an “uprise.” it’s a move where one starts out hanging on to and below the trapeze bar and ends up with one’s hips resting on top of the bar. The clearest video of an uprise I found of an uprise is actually a woman I fly with, although this video was taken in sunny outdoor southern California and not in the old warehouse where I fly. Here’s a dark, harder to see video of an uprise by a classmate of mine in the facility where I fly. In both these videos the flyer is wearing safety lines; these allow the instructor to help the flyer if something goes wrong.
I’ve done many uprises without any problem and stopped using safety lines for this trick a while back. Recently my instructor has been telling me that I’ve been too upright on the bar. The correct position has one’s shoulders in front of the trapeze bar, and one’s feet behind. It’s obvious to me now — the correct posture distributes the weight so that the flyer stays put on the bar as the trapeze moves through the arc of its swing. But since I had never had problems with the uprise I had never really understood the mechanics of what can go wrong.
Then one evening I do an uprise. I feel the lift I’m accustomed to as one floats up over the bar and I think to myself “great.” Then suddenly, unexpected, I am falling off the back of the bar. I’m still holding on with my hands. But I’m no longer a fulcrum balanced on the bar — I’m a weight still attached by my hands but otherwise sliding off the back of the bar. I don’t think even the strongest person can hold on in this setting. The physics make it tough. I’ve never done this before though, so I don’t realize this. My left hand slides off the bar. The right hand holds on for a while longer, still hoping to recover my grip. There’s a lot of stress on the right shoulder and rotator cuff muscles at this point. Lots of forces, pulling in different directions. The force of coming off the back of trapeze bar badly, the force of swinging through the air with my body out of position, the twisting forces from one hand sliding off first. Eventually the right hand peels off near the bottom of the swing and I careen downwards into the net.
I land fine in the net. This is nice and a bit surprising. My first reaction is shock — what happened? The next is fear, and the knowledge I have to get back up and do it again. Then the realization that my shoulder isn’t quite right. I ignore that long enough to do another uprise or two that night. Then I have to admit it, especially when I need both ice and ibuprofen to be able to sleep.
Then I had to admit that the warning signs had been there. My instructor had told me more than once to fix my upright posture. I had not understood the importance of this, but I hadn’t asked her to explain it either. She’s a great instructor. She doesn’t say things without a reason. I simply didn’t ask why being upright mattered. All the clues were there. I just didn’t focus enough to put them together.
It’s really a blessing in life to get warning signals. It’s really dumb to ignore them. Now I’m paying very focused attention to anything that sounds like it’s a safety warning. And looking at other aspects of life to see what signals I see there as well!