Laura-Ann Chong had been touring the world with Cirque du Soleil, now she is keeping in shape teaching circus skills and more.
In 2000, 12-year-old Laura-Ann Chong was on the Canadian gymnastics team. An alternate for the 2004 Athens Olympics team, she graduated high school and scored an NCAA scholarship to Oregon State University.
“Those are the two goals you have growing up in gymnastics, to go to the Olympics and to get a U.S. scholarship,” said Chong. “I was totally in the dark about where to go aside from UCLA, and was getting recruited by LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma and others, but my criteria was I didn’t want to go anywhere there were hurricanes or tornadoes. Oregon State reached out, and it was a familiar area with tax-free shopping so that was it.”
A two-time all-American on bars and beam, she graduated with a BSc in sport science and was aiming for physiotherapy. Her first year of applying to grad schools didn’t go well. So she considered going to the 2012 Olympics.
“Halfway through the year of training, I realized I wasn’t sure I had the mental discipline to really push to enter all the training camps, trials and so on,” she said. “Then I met the former head physiotherapist for Cirque du Soleil at an event in Montreal and that planted a seed. It wasn’t that I didn’t know about the opportunities there, I just hadn’t really seen myself as part of it.”
The truth was, the general view around Vancouver at the time was that a career in the circus was part of a “freak mentality” that just didn’t fit the Lower Mainland as well as Montreal. But the reality was that, at age 21, she was the oldest competitor at any competition she entered as gymnastics was very much a girl’s sport.
“Today, there are more women in their 20s involved at the Olympic level, but at that time it was a field of 16-year-olds,” she said. “Fast-forward to May 2012, and my application was submitted to Cirque and I received an email invitation to Formation Generale, a program where you get trained in everything from clowning and dance to extreme clowning where you have to forget about formality and just be in-character and play. As a gymnast, where everything is so meticulous, that character-building training was the absolute hardest part for me.”
Seven months later, there was no word about a job. So much for running away to join the circus…
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