When most children threaten to run off and join the circus, their parents don't take them seriously. But when Lizzie Hedrick '08 decided to take a year off from Bowdoin and enroll in a full-time circus school in Bristol, England, her parents couldn't have been more pleased.
"My husband and I are really proud of Lizzie, not only because she is a talented trapeze artist, but also because she really is pursuing her dream," said Janet Hedrick, Lizzie Hedrick's mother.
Lizzie Hedrick, an English major hailing from Ardsley, New York, is currently enrolled in Circomedia, a circus and physical theater school where she can explore her passion for the trapeze. Although she will not receive Bowdoin credit for the program, it is not a problem for Hedrick.
"I feel like I am learning more than I could anywhere else in the world," she said in an e-mail to the Orient.
Hedrick, who is specializing in acrobatics and aerial skills during her year abroad, found her circus school schedule to be much more demanding than a typical Bowdoin semester.
"The time table is the most intense and formidable thing I've ever seen," she said.
"Bowdoin students avoid 8 a.m. classes like the plague. At circus school, we need to be on the campus by 8 a.m. every morning, and have mandatory group runs every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday," Hedrick said. The rest of the day is filled with classes until often as late as 8 p.m.
During the first six weeks of the course, participants are required to take classes in all four genres of circus?acrobatics, aerial skills, physical theater, and juggling?before selecting their specialties.
"That was hilarious, as I'm hopeless as a mime, and can't for the life of me understand why anyone would want to throw and catch more objects than they have hands," Hedrick said.
Although the school does not offer courses in flying trapeze, which has been Hedrick's focus for many years, Circomedia does offer static and swinging trapeze as part of its aerial skills program. Since "flying" is not part of the course itself, Hedrick takes night classes from her aerial teacher and participates in his company's affiliated flying trapeze troupe in addition to her required classes.
Hedrick first became interested in flying trapeze by coincidence, when, at the age of 14, her mom found a poster for a flying trapeze in a field on a "hippy farm" near her house.
"I was hooked from my very first swing, and haven't been able to give it up since," she said.
According to her mother, Hedrick's life has revolved around the trapeze for a very long time. Since eighth grade, Hedrick drove three hours a day, three or four times a week, for the chance to fly.
However, when she came to Bowdoin, she found that there were no opportunities to practice near campus. According to Hedrick, during her first two years at Bowdoin, she only "flew" during the summers.
"That was really my biggest issue with Bowdoin," she said. "Otherwise it'd be perfect."
Without access to a flying trapeze, Hedrick found other avenues to stay active at Bowdoin. Founder of the Bowdoin Rock Climbing Club and a diver for the swimming and diving team, Hedrick's lack of flying opportunities did not prevent her from getting back in the air.
Nevertheless, the longer she spent away from the trapeze, the more she missed it. As junior year approached, Hedrick began looking into opportunities for study abroad that were distinct from those of her friends.
"When I'm away from the trapeze, I itch to get back on," she said.
According to her mother, "Her summer jobs, vacations, school breaks all revolved around 'flying,' so it seems natural that she'd be immersing herself in aerial arts this year."
Lizzie Hedrick will return to Bowdoin in the fall with two more years of college ahead of her. After graduation, she hopes to find a way to make a career out of her passion.
"I'd like to integrate trapeze into whatever I choose to do, but not necessarily perform," she said.
"I am really interested in doing something with outdoor education, in which I would use rock climbing and trapeze in conjunction with regular, academic education," she added.
Although Hedrick has been flying for almost eight years, she recognizes that there is a certain element of risk involved. According to Hedrick, in order to minimize risk, performers extensively practice a trick in safety lines before removing the harness, and even then, they only perform over a net.
"I, personally, feel completely comfortable letting go from anywhere in the swing?within reason?and landing on my back in the net. Once I had this aerial consciousness instilled in by brain and body, I felt completely safe doing most tricks without safety lines," Hedrick wrote.
"People do get hurt, though. Your biggest fear as an aerialist is always going to be equipment failure," she said.
Hedrick herself has had some close calls. The summer that she turned 16, she was first permitted to fly to a catcher?a trick in which one performer lets go of her bar and is caught by a performer swinging from another trapeze?without a safety harness.
"It went really well for the first few weeks, but one day in August, I was a little spacey, I guess, and let go of the bar with only one hand. It is really dangerous for the flyer's shoulders to be caught with only one arm, so once the catcher realized what had happened, he had no choice but to release me into the apron (vertical, back section) of the net," she explained.
Since Hedrick wasn't prepared to be released, she hit the apron, full-force, "smacking my back in about 15 places," she said.
Hedrick was fortunately unharmed.
"The good news: My back has been much more flexible since," she said.
According to Hedrick, her parents have been very supportive of her passion, despite the risks involved.
"They are amused, I think. I don't think they care what I do as long as I'm happy," she said.
Janet Hedrick said that she and her husband have gotten used to their daughter's unique hobby.
"You can't be Lizzie's parents and be feint-hearted," Janet Hedrick said. "We've grown used to watching Lizzie turn every board?no matter how high up?into a balance beam, perch atop the highest trees with her favorite novel, climb rocks that I can't even look at, dive off the high board at Bowdoin."
"At least with trapeze, she has a safety net," she said.