Erin Ball gets on a piece of light pink fabric that hangs from the ceiling, pulls up with her muscular, tattooed arms and stabilizes by gripping the material with her inner thighs. Her legs end a few inches below her knees. She hooks one over the silk to hang it upside down, and then wraps the fabric around her waist. Her glittering false eyelashes shimmer in the light as she poses before plunging into a breathtaking drop.
Ball's discipline, called the Air Circus and popularized by Cirque du Soleil, involves tricks on fabric, rope, harness, hoop or other apparatus floating in the air. Aerialists, as the performers are called, combine grace and flexibility with serious core and upper body strength to evoke breathtaking movements.
A decade into her career as a performer and teacher, Ball makes everything look easy. But after becoming a double amputee a few years ago, she had to work hard to get herself airborne and regain her identity as an athlete.
4, Ball got lost in a walk in the woods near her Kingston (Ontario) home.
A policeman found her unconscious six days later and subjected to extreme frostbite. Doctors amputated their injured feet and part of their lower legs. After the surgery, she spent much of the next year in a hospital bed struggling to accept what had happened, wishing she could die.
"I did not know any amputees," Ball tells SELF. "I really had no idea that my life could continue in any way and resemble what it was before."
Eventually she decided something had to change. She wanted to go back to circus training, although she was not sure if this was possible. While many amputee runners and wheelchair basketball players have to turn to more and more sizable and visible communities, Ball did not know any other Aerialists without feet.
She learned to walk with prosthetic legs and required pull-ups, push-ups, and Pilates to rebuild the power circus.
She arranged to hang up her silks at a friend's gym. The ceiling was lower than ideal and she was out of shape. Ball walked slowly up several flights of stairs into the room. She started with the skills she had taught in beginner classes. She knotted her prosthetic feet and stood on the cloth. She quickly realized that many things would not work as they did before. Her new feet would not bend, a key move that helps Aerialists rest on the silks. The prosthetic legs squeezed her down and the silk painfully transformed her.
"I felt like I had a little toe and it was burning," she recalls. It was the only time she experienced Phantom Pain or discomfort that feels like it's located in a distant part of the body.
But Ball persisted and learned all the basics with her prosthetic legs. Then she took off her clothes and started experimenting. She discovered tricks to get into standard positions without using her feet and found new ways to move in the air.
"Creatively, that has just opened so much," she says. "I have created all sorts of climbs that many people probably can not do because I can fit into smaller spaces and just somehow can sneak my legs through."
It performs now with and without prostheses, sometimes with attachments Confetti cannons and colored smoke grenades on their "flesh" legs – a term that some amputees, including ball, use to describe their bodies – or the prosthetic ones when they are used. The various leg attachments she uses in her acts, including extra long circus stilts and cones, change their course of motion. Attaching a longer or heavier material to her body shifts what Aerialists call a balance point or location, usually somewhere in the lower back where she can place her body to rest freely on a trapeze bar.
As Aerialists constantly raise their own body weight, some assume that certain movements are easier for Ball as their legs are shorter and therefore lighter. But she says the amputation almost always made tricks harder, whether she was wearing her prosthetic leg or not. If she has no dentures, she grabs the fabric with the inner thighs. When she wears the prosthetic legs, they weigh about 13 pounds in total. She can not take her as you can attack the limbs that are part of the body. So it's like having ankle weights every time you move. Her gait, which runs on prosthetic legs, also tightens the hips, which causes Ball, a former yoga teacher, to notice in places where she had not felt in years.
Whether It's Tricks in the Air or Lifting Weights In the gym, navigating fitness as an amputee is a very individual process.
Ball now has a community of amputees who are under the knees, but there are different types of feet and different sizes of limbs. "People can give me ideas, but I really have to figure out what will work for me," she says.
Before becoming an amputee, Ball trained as a teacher, asking if she wanted to teach circus to people with disabilities. At that time she had no idea how she could do that. Since then, she has developed a syllabus for aviation circus trainers to train amputees. It is called " Flying Footless ". This summer, she runs her second circus camp for amputees and other limb differences in her wheelchair accessible studio. "I'm much more confident working with different bodies," she says. "Now I see it as a really interesting, entertaining challenge."
Ball believes that fitness professionals who work with adaptive athletes should remember that everyone is an expert in their own body.
The task of the trainer is to give suggestions and not to be too rigid to do things in a certain way. "Let go of the standards," she says. "If it's not there for security, do not be afraid to let it go. I really believe that there is nothing "wrong" unless someone hurts himself or someone else.
Amputation has changed how it defines success for itself and its students. Before she valued a certain aesthetic in the air: super straight legs, great pointed toes. Now she says, "I'm more focused on which shapes can form unique bodies, rather than making all bodies the same shape."
When she first got used to her new body, Ball hid her prosthetic legs under leg warmers, so people do not stare. Today she enjoys expressing her identity as an amputee and finding humor in it. She wears earrings made of Barbie legs and tiny dangling knives. Recently, she received a tattoo of a hot air balloon filled with severed feet. On Halloween, she posted a photo on Instagram in which she wore an apron sprinkled with fake blood and lifted a chopper over a pile of plastic zombie teeth.
She wants new amputees to know that the transition after the operation is known to be difficult, but it does not stay that way. "My life is actually better now," says Ball. "I've built a community and connect with people at a much deeper level than before."