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Soar Losers

It's air today, gone tomorrow for the frequent flyers at the Central YMCA.

Tony Carpenter sells cell-phone service, plays with his two kids, finds his wife a nice Valentine's Day remembrance, contemplates the occasional acting job. Because he injured his shoulder six months ago, he hasn't tried flying lately. In fact, he hasn't even heard that the Y's nearly seventy-year-old trapeze program was grounded in November.

"What happened?" he asks. "How can they do that?"
With the greatest of ease. Last September John Pateros, a guy from California visiting Denver, tried out the Central YMCA's trapeze program one evening. While dismounting from the net, Pateros fell and broke his hip; he was taken to Denver General Hospital, where he ran up more than $10,000 in medical bills. Later that week, Pateros called the Y to ask if it had any insurance that might cover his injury. The answer was yes, the Y had insurance, and no, it was not liable.

Although Pateros did not file a claim against the Y, the executive director roped in the program. After all, what's one physical fitness class, more or less?

"More or less?" Carpenter says. "Listen, you can't equate the trapeze program with anything else in the city, maybe even the country. The flyers are a family. The Y calls it a class, and we do work out, but even if you don't fly for ten years, you still belong. The last time I went, we were joking about Trapeze: The Next Generation, because when we started we were these young studs with our long hair and sideburns, and now our kids are starting to fly. Were starting to fly," he corrects himself.

Forty-one-year-old Carpenter was a kid himself when he first showed up at the downtown Y three decades ago. He'd decided he needed to get into a sport, and his small, wiry build was unsuited to basketball or football. "And I grew up in north Denver, which was a neighborhood in transition at the time," he recalls. "There was a lot of racial tension between the Italians and Mexicans, and I was just ripe for trouble. The Y actually kept me off the streets."

To be precise, it was actually Yo Yo Mareno, the Y's longtime gymnastics instructor, who captured Carpenter's attention and got him to come downtown every Wednesday and Friday, the evenings dedicated to the gymnastics and trapeze programs.

Still, Carpenter did not come into his own as a trapeze artist until the early Eighties, after he'd graduated from college and spent several years trying to make it as an actor in New York City. Returning to Denver for the second season of the newly formed Denver Center Theatre Company, Carpenter gravitated back to the Y to stay in shape--only to discover that the gymnastics program had been canceled. Luckily, he learned, his maturing body had made him "a real natural" for the trapeze. After just a year of flying high above the Y's basketball court, Carpenter took a job as an aerialist with the Shrine Circus for one glorious, nomadic season.

After that he returned to Denver, married, settled into steady film and TV work, took a job with US West and kept flying, learning more circus-quality tricks each year. Over the past decade, Carpenter says, his entire social structure was built around Wednesday and Friday nights at the Y, and the eating and drinking excursions that always followed. And yet, he adds, recently he'd sensed that the Y's program might be on its way to extinction--not because the flyers were losing interest, or even because their numbers were shrinking, but because the management seemed to be looking for an excuse to ground them. Permanently.

"We knew," he says. "In fact, we always had an inside joke--if you get hurt, don't sue the Y. They took away gymnastics twenty years ago because it was dangerous, they said. But I think it's because neither gymnastics nor trapeze are on national TV every weekend, that they just aren't mainstream sports, and so they don't matter."

But they do, he insists. "I know I sound normal," he says, "but this is terrible news. Inside, I am just shaking."

In 1937 Molly soon-to-be Ginsburg was on one of the most unusual dates of her romantic career.

"The first thing Mr. Ginsburg did was take me to see him fly on the trapeze at the Central YMCA," she remembers. "After that, I watched him fly many, many times. I never did it myself. I wasn't the type. But I liked watching. My husband Julius was a big guy. He used to catch Yo Yo Mareno, a little guy. Looking back," she decides, "it was very romantic."

A more prevailing view held that trapeze work built young bodies as well as character--and often, as it turned out, characters. Attorney Julius Ginsburg and Yo Yo Mareno were among the first to sign up for the downtown Y's program, designed in 1927 by University of Denver gymnastics coach Granville "Granny" Johnson. From the start, the rules were few. Once you learned a trick, for example, you were responsible for teaching it to someone else. In the beginning, you didn't even have to be a Y member to join the informal, yet rigorous, classes. But you were expected to show up faithfully every Wednesday and Friday night.

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