When your livelihood breaks

“I’m scared, yeah because it can make me bring back. I’ll be like, starting again to train because maybe you don’t know it can take long for injury to be recovered. That’s why I’m scared of injuries. I take care, I’m careful with injuries.” – Ali, acrobat.

He walks up to me, points at his wrist, tells me it hurts. Pain is part of the game, part of the sport and part of the job. My entire life I have dealt with injuries. I was always able to go to hospitals, get help and get physiotherapy. I would do anything that would help me to heal but also still allow me to continue training. When I was young, every day of rest meant that I was not getting better at my sport. I did not realize that I could not get better if I would not let my body heal. Yet, I had a choice. Resting would not have impacted my livelihood negatively.

When your sport is your job, things become different. This job means that your body is your livelihood. Choices regarding the body become tougher. What if you are in a situation where you even have to consider transport costs to go to the hospital? What if the money spent on the hospital, would otherwise be invested in your child’s education? What would you choose? If I asked the acrobats if they would go to the doctor, their answer would be: “No, of course not, it just costs money and they just tell me to rest”.

Leading a warm-up at an event with Ali (March 2019)

We walk up to the wall, taking a deep breath and getting into a handstand, ready to hold it for three minutes. We keep going, keep training, keep doing what we love. We work hard in the gym. One might wonder, what for?

It is weekend, but today I need to get up at 5am. I will be headed to a location where a stage will be waiting for me. Glory comes after hard work and almost every weekend the acrobats get to feel that glory as they enter the stage in front of big audiences. The hard work behind the scenes, the pushing through injuries, the perseverance. Nothing is in vain if the acrobats can pay their children’s school fees after the performance. If they can purchase the necessary books and school uniform. Can pay their rent. Can buy the fruits and vegetables that will fuel their bodies.

Another choice would be to invest the money in the body after the performance. To go to a hospital to make sure that in the long-term the livelihood could possibly be more sustainable. In reality, it is a conflict, a vicious cycle. Would you remove the money that you earned through your body to go to a doctor who will tell you no longer to use that body that pays your bills? The alternative is to continue with what you have always been doing, train through the pain and continue performing.

Warm-up at training (February 2019)

We get on stage; the audience is cheering. We forget about everything because we are doing what we love. A day later, we are all running in circles, warming up for the training, to do it all over again. I ask Sammy what he does when he has an injury expecting him to say that he does not go to doctors. Almost making the wrongful assumption that he does not realize that he can increase the longevity of his career by going to a doctor. Instead he answers:

“If I get injury, I used to go to hospital. But now, if it come up, we have medicine, we have traditional medicine, that if you get broken here, the way I am broken here (points at leg), I just go to old man, I tell him: “I have problem here”, then without money, with his knowledge he gets the medicine from the tree, from the roots of the tree. So, then that guy give me, I have to rub, I have to rub for about 1 or 2 days and then it will be fine. But you know, that is not healing, that will not be healed, it just stops the pain, but after all, the problem will come back again. (…) But when it’s serious, (…) I have to go to hospital, even if I like it or not. I have to remove that money. Because that body is the one that has given me that money, so why don’t you treat it? Next time, it will give you money.” – Sammy, acrobat

Author: Veronique Sprenger

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