To start off, I am far from a religious person. Some of the coolest people that I've met are religious, but then again, so are some of the biggest slime balls I've ever met. I do however believe pretty strongly in the idea of Karma. Not in a Hippy, sarong wearing, yoga practicing kind of way, but more like a "if you do good things for people you will be a happier person and people will be more inclined to help you if you're ever in need" kind of way. I don't believe that there is some actual sentient, cosmic being that decides who gets what dished out to them based on what they've done previously, but I do remember the first time that something happened that really made me think that karma will get 'ya if you deserve it.
For those of you who don't know, I used to teach flying trapeze. Yep. Flying Trapeze. Like in the circus. Don't believe me? Check out the vid at the top right. That's me, trying to throw a double backflip to my catcher, and good friend, Adam. As you can see, I missed.
To make a long story short, I used to go to a summer camp where flying trapeze was one of the activities. I loved the trapeze and caught on pretty quick. Eventually I ended up working at the camp, teaching trapeze. After my first year of University I got a job as a summer camp counselor in Pennsylvania. I was hired to teach wrestling and football. They also had a trapeze at the camp but that wasn't initially on my contract. When word leaked out hat I had actually worked on a trapeze rig for a few years my job immediately changed to full time trapeze staff. I worked at the camp for a long time, eventually taking over the trapeze program when my boss moved to Europe.
This is a picture of me catching my friend Jay with no safety lines. As you can imagine, having trust in your catcher is pretty important.
In my first year I worked, with 6 other staff, under a great trapeze director and an assistant trapeze director who was not so great. The assistant director had some experience, but was careless and sloppy. When you are launching kids off of a 32 foot platform attached to a few safety lines carelessness is not a good quality. When campers "fly" on the trapeze, they are always hooked into safety lines. Staff and instructors use the safety lines to practice new tricks and only take them off when they can consistently "catch" the trick. The person running the safety lines is extremely important. They can control part of the swing and prevent nasty falls. The tricky part is keeping the lines tight enough to prevent whiplash, but not too tight that it slows the swing. The assistant director had a nasty habit of letting the lines run with too much slack. This can be dangerous if the flyer suddenly falls. When the flyer catches up to the slack in the lines there is a huge whiplash effect. The assistant director had been told plenty of times to keep the lines tighter. He knew what he had to do, but he was a slack-ass and was only paying half attention, half of the time.
On one particular camp day I was working with the assistant director to fly some kids. The assistant director was on the safety lines and I was the "catcher"; the guy who hangs from his knees and catches the flyer by the wrists after they've done their trick and before they fall to their doom in the pit of alligators, rusty nails and used needles that lay underneath. Ok, it was a safety net, but I've still seen some nasty injuries from falling into it incorrectly. Regardless, I was catching and he was puling lines. As one kid swung towards me I felt one of the lines slap me in the face. That should never happen and meant that the lines were way too loose. I let him know that the lines were too loose. He didn't seem to pay much attention.
The next kid flew towards me on the first swing. Normally this swing is used to gauge whether the timing is good or bad and the catcher can adjust their swing accordingly. The catcher and flyer then swing away from each other before the final swing back towards each other for the "catch". You can look at the video to get an idea of what I'm talking about. On this particular occasion though, when the kid swung towards me the safety lines were so loose that they looped around my back. Then we swung away from each other. Fast. The nylon and polyester safety rope (think climbing rope) ripped across my back so hard and so fast that some of the rope melted. Melted right into my back, in fact.
I didn't know it yet, but I had a burn on my back that went from my left hip diagonally up to my right shoulder and was an inch and a half wide. All I knew was that I was as much pain as I could ever remember being in. My brain was trying to sort out the furious rage and excruciating pain that I was feeling at the same time and figure out which was more important. I dropped down to the net and rolled to the ground with full intentions of administering a savage beating to the guy who was responsible. As I stormed towards him I could feel the eyes of all of the kids on me. They knew something was up and wanted to see what I was going to do. I caved. When I was five steps from the guy, I turned around and headed straight for the infirmary, which was luckily very close to where the trapeze was.
I couldn't see it yet, but I knew the burn was bad when the nurse took less than half of a second to declare that I had to go to the hospital immediately. I spent the next two hours on my stomach on a hospital bed while a doctor used a scalpel to remove melted pieces of nylon from my back. Most of my back had been frozen, which was good, but made walking afterwards tricky. With a huge burn on my back the next weeks weren't much fun. You move and twist your back when you do just about anything, so having a huge scar across your entire back makes things difficult. Sleeping was the worst. I couldn't sleep on my back. Sleeping on my stomach was fine until I budged one inch and the scar cracked and split, waking me up. I didn't sleep much for a while.
The worst part of all of the whole thing was that it was caused by someones gross incompetence and that he had been told over and over to fix the mistake he was making. The guy tried to apologize to me once. I made it abundantly clear that his best option was to stay as far away from me as possible, for as long as possible. I wasn't a fighter yet but had wrestled all my life and this guy liked to wear tights more than I did. I was pretty sure I could smash him into a new universe if I had to.
While I was relegated to office work and other non-physical tasks around camp the assistant trapeze director, let's call him Nathan, because that's his name, continued to fumble his way around the trapeze rig. For a little while.
The main structure of a trapeze rig is 8 aluminum uprights that are about 32 feet high. Lots of gear is rigged to the top of these. When something needs to be fixed you have to climb up to the top to do it. When you're finished you simply slide down to the ground, like the fireman you always wished you were. Sometimes the uprights have to be adjusted a couple of inches to make everything line up properly. To move the uprights you insert a small metal crossbar through two holes near the bottom. You can then grab either side of the crossbar and use it to lift the upright and move it. The rule is that you must always take the crossbar out after moving the upright. Always.
If you've always wanted to be a detective instead of a fireman you might be able to see where this is going.
On one particular day, less than a week after I got back from the hospital, Nathan had been adjusting the uprights and climbing to the top to fix some rigging issues. On his way down, Nathan forgot that he had not removed the metal crossbar from the upright... as every other half brained staff member could tell you. Nathan liked to show off a little. He liked to slide to the bottom as fast as he could...
I'd like to say he remembered about the crossbar in time, but he didn't, and it would be a lie anyways. He hit that sucker at full speed. As luck or fate would have it I had just swung by the trapeze to see what was going on. When he hit the ground he popped up and immediately pulled out the waistband on his shorts to check the damage. I've got to hand it to the guy, he was pretty calm. He just said, "I have to go see the nurse." Like mine, Nathan's stop at the infirmary was brief before being whisked to the hospital.
Nathan had split himself in one of the most sensitive areas you could imagine. At the hospital he needed to have one of the marbles put back in the marble sack before being stitched up. Seven stitches in the burlap is not my idea of a good time, but I didn't feel particularly bad. His carelessness and incompetence had caused me a great deal of pain, and eventually did the same thing to him. I'm not a hateful person, but that's called poetic justice as far as I'm concerned. Nate didn't do a whole lot of work on the trapeze rig for the rest of the summer and it became a safer place to be around.
I guess if this was an Aesop's fable the moral of story would be "Don't be an arrogant show off or you'll get stitches in your jewel case." Or something like that.
Special Shout Outs: To all members of the Sault Wrestling Club who will be traveling to the provincial Championships soon. I hate the term good luck; real athletes want to win because of their skill and preparation, not luck. Instead I will say 'wrestle hard". Fight for every inch of mat space and every position. Fight to the whistle each and every time and make the ref peel you off of your opponent. Take the breaks off and go for it.