Maybe it was because I was a chronic stutterer most of my life that I chose a unique way to express myself using my body, to learn, to be accepted and seen without having to speak.
It worked for me for a very long time until three years ago when injury changed everything. Since then, I have so often grappled with the fear of identity, grasping onto anything to define who I have now become - to create a new anchor that shows the world who I am anew...
Until the accident, my sporting and circus career took me all over the world. I have competed, performed, lived and travelled through Australia, Europe, Spain, South America, South Africa, Canada, South East Asia, India and the USA. I have worked with the world's most talented circus performers including Mongolian contortionists, Russian Trapeze artists, American acrobats, French aerialists, Polish horse riders, Canadian musicians…..and the list goes on. When you travel together, perform together, risk your lives together, eat and socialise together, you become a family very quickly. A circus family is connected for life no matter how far apart or how long ago it was. These connections are made through blood, sweat, tears, passion, pain and the yearning to succeed in our chosen art form.
Cirque du soleil was a fierce and constant goal for 9 years until in 2008 I was offered a dream contract in a new show to perform at Madison Square Gardens in New York. I had realised my ultimate ambition. I had made it, I was one of the chosen few, I was finally respected beyond a need for words.
Over the next few years, I performed in NYC for four month seasons over Christmas and New Years, in between we rehearsed in Montreal, Canada at the CDS headquarters, Then there was a four-month outdoor summer show and in between the occasional trip back home to Australia. Amongst all this, I realised I wasn’t being fulfilled and a strange emptiness crept in.
During this time I was training myself into the ground but as I was under contract I did not have the luxury of stopping to rest. It was an accident on stage in NYC when it all changed. I broke my foot in three places. I was devastated yet at the same time so relieved that it was over and I could finally stop and rest for a while.
I thought myself weak that I couldn’t emotionally handle the performing life as easily as the others around me. I am someone that feels everything and I did not have the outlet my fellow travellers did which was to unwind and escape into alcohol and partying when they had time off. For me, the intensity kept accelerating and I did not have a brake to calm it down. My strong athletic body gave me strength and boosts of confidence, yet at the same time I could see shaky foundations lay under who I thought I was.
I still wish the accident hadn't happened, but it did. Every step forward still reminds me of the injury I have in my body. After the accident, I healed quickly and kept performing for four more years, but another injury on top of the breaks spiralled my foot into a world of nerve damage which finally ended my circus career for good.
Before the accident, I wasn’t that interested in other people. I was focused on excellence alone and was often quick to judge with no understanding of physical infirmity or disability. I had used my physicality to take me as far away from a normal suburban life as possible. My body was everything I needed and I was so absorbed in my world that I didn’t have much time to relate to others and their struggles. Now, everything has changed.
When I look at people now, I see them through a different lens. I want to know their story, their battles and triumphs, as I find it inspires me to be stronger and better able to deal with what I am going through myself. People’s courage motivates me. Everybody desires to be heard, validated and seen for what they have endured. We are all suffering in some way and the smallest of kindest smiles or gestures can make all the difference. Maybe I am more sensitive to this now and that's a good thing.
Perfection is something I have had to continue to release from. The foot nerve injury which halted my circus career, forced me to rethink my whole attitude, life direction, ego, you name it. Now I don't even walk properly and never will again. I deal with it and the compensating pains every day. But now I have evolved into a pole dancer and instructor and have come full circle, teaching at NICA the circus school in the degree programs. I am slowly pulling myself together. I am a changed person completely, yet I struggle at times. My scars teach me.
I constantly deal with new injuries which are caused by the compensations of my imbalanced walking and years of elite level training. These setbacks are frustrating but they have made me have to explore a new life outside the invincible body.
I have had to find another way to connect to the world, as I once did past speech and now past the body.
Through meditation and self affirmation, yoga training in India and the amazing people I meet, teach and care for around me, I am beginning to finally understand the illusory happiness found in the temporary physical world. My pain swoops in when I go back to attaching my self worth to an achievement or how well my physical body is functioning.
Because these things are fleeting, temporary and never last. I am learning that I can be loving and valuable without them. During meditation, being in nature, looking into the brave faces of my students and those I touch on a deep level all remind me of this. When I see myself pushing it too hard, or see that same look on a student's face, I remind them and myself that the beauty of how we use our physical form is not about 'proving' anything, but enjoying the strength, the creative force and the stamina the body offers in that one powerful moment.
I am being healed slowly and I am proud of my spirit which never gives up, keeps me searching for truth and keeps me going. Being kinder to myself keeps me centered.
An excerpt from Mark's story
from the new book building now 'Made by Scars The Men's Series'
Copyright Made Beautiful by Scars 2016