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She Floats Through the Air
by Sarah C.P. Williams
For Amy Wagers, the adrenaline rush of getting a paper accepted for publication is nothing compared to what comes next: a 10,000-foot fall from an airplane. Wagers, an HHMI early career scientist at Harvard Medical School, has a tradition of skydiving with the first author of each of her lab's major research articles. For most who agree to join her, plummeting through the sky is a once in a lifetime experience.
Wagers, however, is no stranger to soaring through midair. She took up the flying trapeze when she was a postdoc at Stanford University.
She wanted a hobby to take her mind off science after a particularly grueling week of lab work, and a friend mentioned the San Francisco School of Circus Arts. “I thought that sounded pretty fun,” says Wagers. “I went to a trapeze class and absolutely loved it.” She became a regular at the school.
“It's really pretty thrilling,” she says. When it's her turn to jump, Wagers climbs to a 23-foot-high platform and reaches for the trapeze bar dangling in front of her. With her toes on the very edge of the platform, she can glimpse the net below.
“At that moment, standing up there, there's that rush of intimidation,” says Wagers. “Then when you actually jump, it's very focusing. You have to listen and you have to not hesitate. It's all about timing.”
When Wagers landed a faculty spot at Harvard Medical School studying stem cells and aging, she thought her days of flying trapeze were over. She discovered, however, that the Trapeze School of New York has a branch in Reading, Massachusetts, just a half-hour drive from Harvard. Located above the food court of a massive Jordan's Furniture store, it has a different feel from the circus school in San Francisco.
Illustration: Peter Arkle