Meet Lauren Watson, a 34-year-old with incomplete paraplegia from Queensland, Australia, who shocked doctors by going from a wheelchair to performing as an aerial artist.
In 2000 when Lauren was only 19, a car accident left her partially paralyzed from the waist down.
“I remember thinking it was all a bad dream,” Watson told BuzzFeed Life in an email. Her spinal cord injuries resulted in incomplete paraplegia, and she lost the majority of motor and sensory function in her legs. After the accident, she remained in the hospital for six months relearning how to do everything from scratch before she could leave in her new wheelchair.
Watson struggled with physical therapy for a decade until she came across an aerial demonstration at the mall.“[PT] for me was a constant reminder of how I was different; it made me feel more disabled,” she said. Then one physiotherapist encouraged her to find opportunities that allowed her to laugh and have fun. When she saw the aerial demonstration, she decided to try it. “I thought, That has to be impossible, but if I can master it I’ll be able to do anything.”
It took Watson months to find an aerial school that would take her, she says, and even longer to pull herself up.
After starting aerial, Watson saw a new physiotherapist and asked for leg-strengthening exercises to help her perform, but they told her it wasn’t achievable.
“I think about it now and it would’ve sounded insane for a girl who’s been partially paralyzed for 14 years to plan on climbing up a silk 13 feet in the air.” But that’s exactly what Watson did.
“I sometimes wonder if I should tell that physiotherapist that he motivated me more by his lack of support and in a way he helped me get to where I am today,” said Watson.
Over the next two years, she became a skilled aerial performance artist by adapting poses, tricks, and apparatuses to her disability. With focus and practice, she was able to achieve her dream. Watson has gone on to perform circus art acts with Flyworx and in a music video for Sydney band Little Fox.
“Aerial makes me realize everything is achievable because I feel empowered to take on new challenges,” said Watson. “I always find new ways to make it work.”
Watson says adaptive aerial arts has given her extensive knowledge about the mechanics of her body, and it’s forced her to think more creatively to constantly adapt positions.