health

The things I've learned as a circus strong woman.

Spenser Inwood is exceptionally strong.

As a professional acrobat and strong-woman with Circus Oz, it’s part of her job description. But her incredible strength is apparent in much more than her ability to carry multi-story-people-towers on her shoulders, or bench-press her colleagues.

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Spenser’s ‘day at the office’ puts our best party tricks to shame. (Image: Supplied/Circus Oz)

Spenser has overcome tremendous adversity, and continues to do so, as a woman fighting tenaciously to undermine the stereotype that women don’t need to be strong.

Here’s what Spenser had to say.

Do you have good genes?

I guess I would say probably a little bit of it. I would say definitely I would put some of my ability down to my grandmother on my mother’s side, she was still able to do the splits right up until she was about 75 almost. So that was always good fun as a young kid watching my grandmother pull out the splits.

But also I’m not necessarily a very tall person either you know, I’m probably only about 5’3″ maybe. But I’m quite a bit shorter than my mother, my mother is quite a tall woman, well she’s not an average sized woman she’s 5’8″, so quite tall for a female.

But I don’t know, I’ve just always been in a space where I’ve been allowed to use my body and I like the fact that I was never told that I shouldn’t, and that it was fun and good for me to use my body and so I always have. And I think that probably always put me in good stead for being physical now.

Were you always an active person?
Yeah, I started gymnastics at about five, and then I joined circus when I was about eight, a children’s company in Albury Wodonga and I’ve been doing circus ever since really, but I also played water polo when I was a teenager and yeah have just always been physical I guess.

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Spenser Inwood (Image: Rob Blackburn)

You’re extremely athletic. How fit are you?
I would say I’m pretty fit. I wouldn’t say I’m marathon fit. Definitely not like a long distance runner. A sprinting fit I’d say, to put in terms that people might have context for. But I would say I’m more physically strong.

But having said that I’ve had to test that too. About six years ago I was diagnosed chronic fatigue.

For a long time, I kind of was like, this might be the end of my physical career. And thought maybe I should be looking for other things to do with my life, other things I might want to do and moving into other spaces.

It was tough… being physical has always been part of who I was.
It wasn’t just that I couldn’t do certain circus tricks, I just didn’t really even have energy to get through a single day.

I’m still, in the routine of my day to day life, questioning how much I have in my reserve. Should I do that extra rep, or should I ride my bike home… Making sure I’m in a space where I’m not going to be left on empty.

Obviously that takes a lot of work and rehearsal, and it’s important for you to know where you’re at physically, so how do you kick off your day? Do you have a morning routine you stick to?

I make sure that I’m getting lots of sleep all the time. And if I can’t get sleep, then food helps. Regularly, often and lots of it. That always helps me.

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When we are at headquarters, I make sure I’ve always got something to tuck into my mouth, a muesli bar, a banana a big handful of nuts to get me through to lunch.

I‘m always aware of when I’m going to have an opportunity to refuel. I’m conscious of getting to a place where I can get though.

I usually get about nine hours sleep. If I have a couple of days in a row with less than nine, if we’re performing and the schedule is tight…by the third night of less than nine hours I’ll be pretty wrecked.

For me it’s about food intake and making sure I do have breakfast when I get up and have regular food in my life.

WATCH: Circus Oz- But Wait…There’s More:

Video via circusoz

Do you have a fitness schedule when you are not performing? Do you maintain the same schedule when you’re not performing?

Well when we’re back home we are in at the training space and training from 10 until 6 everyday. And so we are in at work for, you know, 36 hours a week. And of course we’re not training all the time, there’s rehearsal time and meetings and other bits and pieces we have to go to.

But yeah, a lot of the time I do find it is a 24/7 thing for me, unless I’m on a break. Unless I’m on holidays, and then I might not necessarily be sleeping for nine hours, but really recharging and repairing doing sort of 15 hour nights. Or like finding myself falling asleep in the afternoon because I don’t have to be anywhere I need to be and having surprise naps, and waking up like ‘Oh, I obviously needed to have a little sleep! That’s nice!’ But that’s usually when I’m really, really on a break and sort of in recovery, recharging mode.

I kind of let my body decide what it needs, and if I feel I need to go for a wander, or a bike ride, and go out and see people then I do that. Or if I just want to hang out and watch telly I do that too. You know, in my time off I try and let my body repair and recover as much as possible. That means that going back into the intensity of work and touring I can have a bit more or an understanding of the signs and symptoms of what my body needs.

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I can hear you’re back stage at the moment! The adrenaline must be immense on stage. How do you like wind down after a show?
It’s interesting, because it’s such a regular thing, and people do really struggle with it, it can be really hard to come down from a show sometimes, but there are a whole bunch of methods. I actually really like a good amount of time to get home. If m my home is really close to where the gig is I find it a bit harder because I get home and I’m still adrenalized but if I have a little bit of a walk home, or I can ride my bike home or if I’ve got time to read a book or listen to a podcast, I can kind of expel the energy a little bit and let it settle down in a relaxing way. I find that’s most helpful.

And actually, cooking food making sure that when I get home there is something there to actually cook so that I can’t just hoe in to absolutely everything I can get my hands on, because usually I’m pretty ravenous at the end of a show. So it can be bad for the adrenaline to eat a big meal straight away.

I do eat immediately after the show. It’s usually something quit small and high in protein and carbohydrates so that I can start recovery as soon as possible. But I like, if I’m going to have a big meal, to have it a bit later on so that I’m not fueling my adrenaline and keep it busting over!

Click through of a gallery of the incredible Circus OZ ‘But Wait… There’s More’ ensemble…

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Which women do you most admire?
Apart from obviously my mother, and the grandmothers and the aunts in my family, because I do think all the women in my family are just so incredibly strong, and have done so many great things in their lives… I’ve been lucky enough, growing up in the circus, I’ve been able to surround myself with other women who have been given the opportunity to take that stereotype that women are fragile and weak or don’t necessarily have that necessity to be strong,  because that’s not something women need to get through everyday life, being physically strong, anyway. I’ve been able to watch females take control of that and do amazing things with their bodies.

Something that I love about my job that I do get to kind of question peoples’ perceptions about that too.

I’ve had audience members in the past, and we do this thing where we kind of comes to the audience and chat to people and one of the performers was like ‘This is the woman, who at the start of the show had someone stand on top of her shoulders and then someone else stand on top of their shoulders so she’s carrying too people all at the one time!’

And this woman just sort of grabbed my arm and said, ‘but you’re beautiful’, and I was like, ‘Yeah I am but I’m also really strong! And I can still do these incredible things’, and she’s like, ‘But you’re SO beautiful why, like WHY?’. It was almost like because I was beautiful why would I possibly have pushed myself to be anything more, when I already had everything I needed in just being beautiful. And I think that that’s something that I’d really like to change in the world. The perception that that’s all women need to be to get through the world.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do?
Definitely dealing with my chronic fatigue. As much as I’ve learned so much about my body and myself, and what I really love. That whole thing that you kind of learn so much from things that are really challenging and really difficult. It’s definitely been the biggest thing, and something that I still currently deal with is my energy levels. And going to a state and time in my life when I was only 20-22 when I thought I was going to have to leave the thing that I couldn’t imagine not having in my life, and trying to work out whether that was the case.

As a circus performer, your whole career is more impressive than our very best party tricks. But can you give us an example of something particularly cool or hardcore that you’ve mastered?
As a circus performer I can obviously walk on my hands but I guess the thing I am particularly proud of is, there is another woman in the circus she is about 60 kgs…
We’ve been working on hand to hand acrobatics… We’ve got to the point now where I can be lying on my back with her in a handstand in my hands… I’m basically doing a bench-press with her in my hands, and basically I can do three reps with her in my hands… that’s a point I’m pretty pleased I’ve been able to get to.

You can catch Spenser and the rest of the Circus Oz Ensemble in ‘But Wait… There’s More’, running in Sydney until the 24th of January 2016.

VENUE
Under The Air-Conditioned Big Top
The Showring
Entertainment Quarter
Moore Park
Sydney NSW 2021

BOOKING DETAILS
Phone: 136 100
In Person: Ticketmaster outlets or at the Big Top Box Office in the hour before the show.
Web: www.ticketmaster.com.au

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