Soar Losers

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

A petroleum engineer who'd recently been transferred to Denver from Alaska, Sexton happened into the Y one Friday night in 1980 and "was hooked just watching." While his career burgeoned over the next decade--he eventually became president of a small oil company--his social life stayed exactly the same.

"Wednesdays and Fridays were guaranteed terrific nights," he remembers. "I got completely reinvigorated. We found a way to push the boundaries of this nine-to-five world. I can't tell you how much I miss it."

"We love our trapeze," says 28-year-old Nicky Bruckhart, who came to the Y fresh from three years teaching trapeze at a Club Med. "I had worked with a bunch of people who thought they knew everything. At the Y, there were people who'd flown for thirty years and really did know everything. But there was no ego, nothing pretentious, and much more opportunity to learn."

"And that is what's fun about this group--the shapes and sizes and skill levels of these people," says attorney Lisa Hogan, who started flying ten years ago. "If you could see it--and now you can't--you'd be shamed into trying it."

Hogan had done a bit of semiprofessional juggling in college but had no idea of the kicks awaiting her when she went on her first flight. "There I was in thin air," she recalls, "and I thought, hey, I love thin air, wheee! Flying takes total concentration. It forces you to let go of every stupid thing that happened to you that day. It's about the most thrilling thing in my entire life."

Hogan was quickly absorbed into Denver's cadre of high flyers. Her preferred catcher became her husband; a few years later, they had produced two fearless little girls who were a mainstay at the Y and on road trips to the High Flyers Family Circus in Indiana. Last summer Hogan helped her group build a trapeze outside the East Denver YMCA and drew up a legal waiver neighborhood kids could sign before trying an experimental flight or two. With the use of a "spot rig," which suspends the flyer by a belt and ropes, "anyone could fly," she says. "It was perfectly safe.

"Of course," she adds, "we can't use that now, either. We can't fly at any Y anywhere."

Being both a lawyer and a flyer, Hogan has a hard time accepting the Y's decree. At the very least, she says, she'll go down swinging. "Because it's sadder than anything to watch these older guys. It has always kept them young to fly, and now they can't. And look at me," she adds, holding out her hands. "My flying calluses are gone. I look like an office worker, for Chrissakes."

John Pateros had studied trapeze for one year at the San Francisco School of Circus Arts when he stepped into the Central YMCA on September 22, 1995. He considered himself an experienced flyer. "Not that I ever had any aspirations to be in the circus or anything," he says, "but it was a good way to exercise, and I hate to exercise just for the purpose of exercising."

Pateros and his girlfriend were in town for a seminar: As co-owners of the Anodyne Training Center, the two instruct medical professionals in hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming techniques. After work one day, he decided to take a flyer. "It was a really nice scene," Pateros remembers of trapeze night at the Y. "A nice cross-section of people."

But as he was jumping out of the net, Pateros says, his foot got stuck in a small hole. "Instead of my feet landing underneath me, I just landed right on my thigh, and it fractured my hip," he explains.

Manny Crespin, who was there, remembers the incident a little differently. "He was hanging onto the net, and for some reason he let go, or slipped," Crespin says. "His feet were already on the floor, and he slipped and landed on his hip. When he fell, my feeling was he wasn't even hurt. He was talking and laughing. But then, he was an older gentleman, over 65, I'd say."

In truth, Pateros is 51, and he remembers being in excruciating pain. "It's still not good," he adds. "I lost half an inch of femur and the screws that hold my hip together are sticking out, so that muscles and tendons get snagged."

Pateros was back in San Francisco when he found out the Y's insurance wouldn't cover the accident. He accepted the verdict, he says, and doesn't plan to file a claim against the Y. "What good would it do?" he asks.

Nevertheless, Van Nichols, executive director for all ten metro YMCAs, says the Central Y's trapeze program was discontinued because "there had been claims."

"Yes," Nichols confirms, declining to provide any documentation. "We just didn't have any staff for this program, and there was some liability involved."

But that wasn't the only reason the Y roped in the trapeze group, he adds. "Number one," Nichols says, "it's a program that should have been closed a long time ago. It has nothing to do with our mission, which is to help young people on with their lives."

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