Sometimes the best way to conquer your fears—and find the thrill of a lifetime—is to step off the edge.

What started out as a birthday lark seven years ago has become something of an addiction for Roberta Bosanko.

After driving past a Manhattan flying trapeze school for years as part of her daily commute, Bosanko decided on her birthday in 2007 to finally face her fear of heights. She and a group of friends signed up for a session on circus-type swings that tower more than 30 feet high.

“It was one of those ‘Check off the box; conquer your fears’ kind of challenges,” said Bosanko, senior director of finance at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. “And after doing it, it became an addiction.”

The earliest sessions for students of the flying trapeze begin with ground instruction before progressing to catching lessons while suspended high in the air. The hardest part of that first class was stepping off the platform, she said. Although trapeze students wear a harness and use nets, the fear of stepping into emptiness is “intimidating.”

“The instructor told me to find my inner woman,” Bosanko said. “I wanted to tell him, ‘She’s over there cowering in the corner.’”

Bosanko’s classes over the years have allowed her to learn and improve upon various catches, flips, and other tricks while always keeping an eye out for new goals. She has never been injured on the trapeze—beyond the sore muscles common from intense exercise. In addition to the flexibility, strength, and endurance workouts that the trapeze provides, Bosanko found her mental acuity constantly challenged, as well.

“Your adrenaline is rushing because every time you go up, there is something new to account for,” she said.

For instance, after learning trapeze for several years at a New York City school, Bosanko moved to California for two years and took classes at a trapeze school located on the Santa Monica Pier. The blasting Pacific winds and carnival atmosphere at the pier brought the new challenge of outside distractions. 

“In New York, we didn’t have the Ferris wheel, bright lights, and all of the people watching us like there are in Santa Monica. There’s just a lot of traffic,” she said.

For Bosanko, the precise coordination required both in working with trapeze partners and in solo maneuvers for combination catches and flips remains one of the most challenging parts of the flying trapeze. To help, Bosanko uses a combination of counting, verbal cues with her partners, and visualization before undertaking a maneuver.

“The timing is the hardest part, because they are swinging midair and your swing has to match your partners’ swing exactly,” Bosanko said. “If you miss it by a second, then you won’t connect.” 

The experience has given Bosanko a very personal perspective when she watches professional trapeze artists perform. 

“Now that I know exactly how hard it is, I’m just in awe and admiration of how much time, effort, and trust they have in each other,” she said.

Among the next challenges Bosanko is contemplating is learning to swing from the similarly high altitude silk ropes.

“It seems like that will be a little more intense,” Bosanko said.

Publication Date: Tuesday, April 01, 2014

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