Soar Losers

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

Then again, once you'd soared through the air on the high-flying trapeze, where else would you want to be?

Despite a demanding law career, Julius "Pete" Ginsburg continued as the Y's official catcher until his son, Butch, was about ten years old. "After that," Molly recalls, "the boys just seemed to dissipate."

Ginsburg and Mareno are both dead now, but the Y's frequent flyers remember them. The catcher's trapeze still hanging from the rafters at the Y is a constant reminder: Built in the 1930s to fit Ginsburg's large posterior, it's considered somewhat oversized by any experienced trapeze catcher. Hundreds of Mareno's former students still work out at the Y. Some of them have faded memories of performing in his amateur circuses in the early Sixties--and some of them actually ran away to join real ones.

Bob Christians was eleven when he started with Mareno in 1951. "Faithfully every Friday night," he reminisces. "You got a chance to run around and exercise and see how much courage you had. There was such an appeal. It had to do with just common, ordinary people walking off the streets and having a chance to discover and do these exotic, unique things that most people just dream of."

Christians tried to stay common and ordinary. He got his teaching certificate at Colorado State University on a full gymnastics scholarship, served a tour of duty in the Army, and occasionally coached a year or two of high-school gymnastics. But most of his adult life has been spent on the road with circus acts, from the Flying Lamars to Ringling Bros.

"I was inclined to do more flying than catching," he admits. "It was a demanding life, always in a truck, driving. I was married, and [my wife] assisted me in all our acts."

By the mid-Seventies, Christians was back in Denver helping the Casa Bonita restaurant develop its cliff-diving acts "and other entertainment," he says modestly. Then Club Med called to ask if he could make a trapeze net for its fledgling circus program. Once he was at Club Med's Florida headquarters, inspiration struck.

"The good times at the Y had stayed with me, and it gave me an idea," Christians says. "I proposed introducing the flying trapeze to be done at Club Med, and not by the employees, but by the guests. By anyone."

Christians became Club Med's circus director twelve years ago. Since then, he's installed trapezes in sixteen Club Meds, from Malaysia to St. Lucia to Brazil. And from time to time, when he needs an experienced hand, he imports someone who learned to fly at the local Y.

"I never did make it to Club Med," says 61-year-old Manny Crespin, a boyhood friend of Christians. "In the early days, I did some fair dates with him--New Mexico and other nearby states. I loved it. We didn't make a whole lot of money, but I did some comedy, some clown things, and I enR>jR>oyed myself, and then I went off to college."

At the age of fourteen, Crespin first ventured from west Denver into the Y--and onto the trapeze. "After I did it once, I knew I would never experience anything like that in any other activity," he says. "It was way above the rush of the high bar."

He became an English and drama teacher, but even while he pursued that respectable daytime occupation, Crespin continued to fly at the Y. Eventually he became Yo Yo Mareno's right-hand man. "Yo Yo was on the Y staff during the day and he got me the job for instructing trapeze," Crespin explains. "No salary, but a free membership. Our class was open to anyone who was interested--children, adults, all ages, and they paid us $5 a session, all of which I collected and gave to the Y."

When Mareno died ten years ago of lymphatic cancer, Crespin kept the classes going.

While some neophytes are too afraid of heights to experience the full thrill, others, he says, "would try it once and be so elated with the thing, and become part of our family." Which meant that not only would they fly together, they would "caravan" to the mountains with other trapeze families, eat together, drink together and, more than once, marry each other.

"When the circus came through town, we would ask professionals to come down and show us things," Crespin remembers. "And they in turn were very impressed with us--big-name stars came down as they were passing through, and they could see we knew what we were doing. Over the years I've gotten calls from clear across the U.S. where people were trying to build a trapeze. I don't get those calls anymore."

As a matter of fact, Denver's flyers are fighting an apparently losing battle to keep their own trapeze. Although Alton Barbour has flown on trapezes throughout the Caribbean, he's now focused on saving his hometown rig. "If someone like Manny has worked for the Y all those years as a lay leader," asks Barbour, "and not even gotten his towels for free, shouldn't they say R>thanR>k you at some point?"

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