If a ringmaster were to combine the constant motion of a juggler with the high-flying acrobatics of a trapeze artist, they’d get something close to the performance of Ringling Bros. Solar Hawks. This thirteen member troupe comprised of talented performers from across the USA and central and South America have developed an astonishing trapeze routine designed to eliminate any pause in the action as they fly through the air.
The catchers and the flyers work together in a tightly choreographed routine based on precision, speed, and a lot of practice, executing flips and somersaults in rapid succession: the two groups have their roles, carefully understood and worked out with each other. The catchers, waiting to grab hold of the flyers as they reach the end of their trajectory, are meant to act as shock absorbers, which actually puts them at a greater risk for injury than the flyers. The Solar Hawks tell us, “there is always a higher chance that the catcher will get hurt when the trick is wrong”, but they know this – “that’s their job”. So what can make a trick go wrong? As you might imagine, there are many potential factors when the trick involves performing four somersaults in a row, mid-air. But just as the catchers assume more of the risk of injury, the flyers actually have more responsibility to be precise: according to the troupe, a mistake or small miscalculation on the part of the flyer, “if they are too high or too low”, can be disastrous, leading to pain and injury.
Of course, taking a fall or executing an incorrect grip are not the only possible injuries when the troupe members are propelling themselves and each another from one trapeze to the next. Blisters, on both the hands and wrists, are a common source of pain and irritation as a result of rubbing, twisting, and gripping the bars of the trapeze.
In a routine so dependent on physical health, the members of the Solar Hawks take every precaution to prevent pain and injury that may interfere with their jobs. Blisters are kept at bay with the frequent use of tape, wrist bandages, and special hand grips. They give all due attention to warming up properly, telling us they spend more than 40 minutes warming up prior to each performance so their bodies are at their most prepared. One indispensable method of loosening up their bodies beforehand is to hang and swing from the trapeze bars. They also make use of icing, both before and after performing, to keep swelling down.
Of course, the body that works best for the Solar Hawks’ routine is one that is kept in tip- top shape at all times – exercise is a vital part of their lives, helping to prevent injury and allowing them to do the routine in the best way possible. They favor exercises that both strengthen and lengthen their muscles: Pilates and weight lifting help keep the troupe members’ bodies in the best condition to swing from the trapeze and catch each other as they complete an arc.
Pain is a part of life for members of the Solar Hawks, even when they don’t sustain an injury from a twist, fall, or landing. They rely heavily on massage and good, old-fashioned ice application to ease the everyday soreness and swelling that follow a performance. Acupuncture, along with “other complementary or alternative medicine”, are also resources for them, but they combine the alternative with Western medicine, relying on physical therapy and kineseotherapy for pain management and treatment, especially when they have sustained an injury.
It’s never a slow day for the thirteen high-flying members of the Solar Hawks!