PERU — Courtlynn Crowe wasn’t going to make the cut the first time she tried out to become a flying trapeze performer in the Peru Amateur Circus.
But then, unknowingly, she did something to change that. With tryouts over, 12-year-old Crowe started putting away all the equipment as the other contenders stood around talking.
Brian Miser, the trapeze coach at the time, said that kind of initiative and work ethic wasn’t something he could ignore.
“It was the last practice before making cuts, and I had my mind made up,” he said. “But I saw Courtlynn carrying some poles and the others standing around, and I said, ‘I think I just changed my mind.’”
Fast forward to today, and that kind of dedication has paid off in a way Crowe never expected when she joined the act seven years ago.
In 2019, Crowe switched roles to become a flying trapeze catcher. It’s a role that had always been held by a male. But that changed with Crowe, who became the first female catcher in the Peru circus’ 62-year history.
Now, Crowe is set to once again perform as the trapeze catcher during this year’s Peru Circus City Festival, which kicks off today and runs through July 25 after being canceled last year due to COVID-19.
During the performances, spectators can watch the 19-year-old hanging upside down, swinging back and forth, perfectly timing the catch as a flyer launches themselves toward her, 40 feet above the ground.
So why did Crowe want to become a catcher after performing for years as a flyer?
“You know, everybody asks me that question,” she said with a laugh. “It would be a good question to know the answer to.”
In retrospect, Crowe said, she was drawn to the position by the strategy, intuitive anticipation and snap judgment required to make a perfect catch. Those aren’t skills she needed as a flying trapeze performer, and she liked the idea of trying something different.
“It was something new, something fresh, something I could work toward,” Crowe said. “It was challenging. There’s a lot that goes into it. You have to watch how every flyer throws their trick, and that’s how you know how the catch is going to be.”
The one thing that didn’t draw her to the position was the fact that she’d be the first female to ever do it. The thought never crossed her mind the first year in the position. For Crowe, it was all about the challenge.
But that changed when others in the circus started telling her they found her tenacity inspiring, and she was showing other girls they could be whatever they wanted to be.
“When people started telling me, ‘Hey, that’s really awesome and it’s cool you’re doing this,’ it was super cool to see that people were there for me and backing me up,” Crowe said. “I’ve gotten a lot of supporters.”
Trapeze coach Leslie Murphy said Crowe may not have thought much about it, but in the beginning, it’s something others with the circus thought about, and some said it might not be a good position for a girl.
“Some people thought a girl wouldn’t have the kind of strength that it takes to catch the more difficult tricks,” she said. “But we thought it was a great idea.”
Murphy said that’s because she knew Crowe had the work ethic and grit to do it. If Crowe wanted to catch, she’d do whatever it took to make it happen. And she did.
Today, Crowe said, she still doesn’t think much about the historical achievement of becoming the Peru circus’ first female catcher. She said she’s more focused on the tricks and putting on a great show.
“Sometimes I just forget how unique and cool it is, so when people bring it up, I’m like, ‘Oh right, that is cool,’” she said with a laugh.
Now, that sense of accomplishment is mixed with sadness. Crowe, a sophomore at Indiana University Kokomo, is hanging up her trapeze hat this season after performing in the Peru Amateur Circus for the last 12 years.
“It’s really emotional for me,” she said. “It’s been such a big part of my life. I’ve been doing this since I was 7, so I can’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t in the circus. It’s really sad, and I’m going to cry a lot.”
But Crowe doesn’t plan on giving up on circus performing just yet. She said that once she completes her degree in exercise science, she plans to move to California to start her master’s degree and hopefully land a circus gig there.
The final goal, Crowe said, is to develop enough skills and connections in California to land a job as a stunt double in movies and TV shows.
“I’ve always wanted to be a stunt double, so I figure I’d be dumb to not at least give it a try,” she said.
Until then, Crowe isn’t saying goodbye to the Peru Amateur Circus just yet. She said that’s a goodbye she never wants to say to the performers and trainers who have become her second family.
“I know I’ll be back,” Crowe said. “I’ll be helping with rigging and I’ll be around, so I know I’m not leaving this place forever, because I don’t know if that’s even possible. I don’t know if I could do that.”