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HBS Students Face Fear on the Flying Trapeze

Attending Boston Trapeze School

Some people are scared of spiders, others fear the dark, and still others are terrified of public speaking. I am afraid of heights. As a child this fear left me content to hold everyone’s belongings and watch from the ground while my friends rode the newest, tallest, fastest, twenty loop, upside down, stand-up roller coaster. My opportunity to address this fear occurred when Arden O’Connor (ND) emailed our section soliciting others to go with her to the Beantown Trapeze School. Without hesitation, I quickly responded, “Yes.” Armed with a healthy dose of enthusiasm, a slight hangover, and my section fleece, I, along with Nicole Neeman Brady (NB) and Alex Rethore (OI) hopped in Arden’s car at 9 a.m. on Saturday and headed off to trapeze school. The four of us were beyond excited in anticipation of the adventure ahead.

The TSNY (Trapeze School of New York Beantown) is located inside Jordan’s Furniture store in Reading, MA, about a fifteen minute drive from HBS. Upon entering the store, you realize that Jordan’s lives up to its motto, “Not just a store, an experience.” After passing through large revolving doors, TSNY is on your right and just beyond the trapeze school is a Bellagio-inspired water show and light exhibit. The carnival-esque lobby of Jordan’s also includes an IMAX theatre, Fuddruckers and a SweetSpot candy shop. Though it was a furniture store, the only time I saw furniture was in the hallway leading to the ladies room. I couldn’t understand why Jordan’s placed a trapeze school in their lobby, but I figured that 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning wasn’t exactly the right time to pull out my POCD or five forces framework.

After a few moments of looking around the impressive lobby, we walked over to the TSNY sign-in desk and began our morning. We read the document briefly and Nicole quickly pointed out the waiver language “TSNY is not to be held responsible for people being dropped or equipment having malfunctioned.” After a split second of hesitation, we signed the waiver, strapped on our harnesses and practiced swinging and hanging upside-down on a stationary trapeze. Then we climbed the steps and got ready for our first of many swinging attempts. The instructor, a buff twenty-something year-old woman who wore black and white striped spandex, explained the process to us. She commanded us to follow her instructions. She would tell us when to kick our legs, when to pull our knees into our body and hang upside from the swing. While she yelled commands at us, another employee stood at the foot of the trapeze contraption controlling the harness attached to our safety belt. I watched as both Arden and Nicole leaped off the platform and performed the various tricks requested by the announcer. Nicole mastered the knee swing and managed to arch her back and smile for the camera while hanging upside-down! After watching Arden gracefully back flip off the safety net, I was convinced that she secretly had taken gymnastics as a youth. My excitement turned to anxiety as I walked onto the edge of the platform. Looking down, it felt as if I were twenty feet off the ground. Yes, there was a safety net. Yes, I had on a harness. And, yes, I saw that no one before me had been hurt. However, none of those things calmed my fear.

Frozen with panic, I decided to take small steps towards getting on the trapeze. My first time at the top of the platform, I placed my feet on the edge. I then walked to the back of the line to wait for my next turn to get closer to getting on the trapeze. While I made incremental progress towards just getting on the platform, Arden, Nicole and Alex were swinging like pros! For my second turn on the platform, I allowed my harness to be attached to the ropes. The third time at the top, I touched the trapeze bar with one hand. The fourth time, I let go of the railing and used both hands to hold onto the trapeze bar. After looking down and seeing the ground so far away, my hands started sweating, my heart began racing and my body wouldn’t jump off the ledge. I wanted to jump but could not move. I thought that jumping off the ledge would be a great way to address my fear of heights. I was wrong. In hindsight, I realize that for some people their crowning accomplishment is being the MVP of the team; that morning my accomplishment was just making the team. So, no, I didn’t jump off the ledge. However, just making it to the top of the platform and holding onto the trapeze bars with both hands was an accomplishment. Yes, it would be great to be Michael Jordan of the three-peat champion Chicago Bulls, but when it comes to Trapeze Flying School I am content being BJ Armstrong.

I watched with excitement while the other girls attempted double flips and the ultimate beginner trapeze school trick, “the catch.” The catch occurs when one student swings on the trapeze and then leaps off the trapeze and reaches for an instructor who is located on the other swing. Alex was the most graceful with the catch, though she did note the difficulty of the maneuver. She chuckled that the scariest part was the timing and trusting that an instructor who appeared to weigh no more than 60 pounds would be able to catch her as she leaped through the air. Unfortunately, everyone wasn’t as successful as Alex with the catches; but it did look like tons of fun! Overall, the staff at the trapeze school was great and the 60-pound instructor was stronger than we thought.

On the ride back to HBS, I regretted not jumping off the platform and wondered if there were other risks in my life that I haven’t taken because of fear. I have resolved that the only way to address this is to try again. That said, I am going back next weekend. This time, I too will leap off the ledge! So next Saturday, I am off to the Beantown Trapeze School, and hopefully all you daredevils out there, especially my sectionmates in New D, will come as well! See you in the air…

For more information on the Boston Trapeze School check out their website //boston.trapezeschool.com/

March 12, 2007
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