If the circus had come to Lafayette a couple of weeks later, Kaely Michels-Gualtieri may have been one of the people treating the wounded at a 7 p.m. screening of “Trainwreck.”
Look up to see her — she’ll be doing amazing acrobatics on the flying trapeze. And she’ll be doing amazing work of a different kind in the days leading to opening night.
Michels-Gualtieri is an emergency medical technician. That’s the full name for an EMT, a certification she achieved through an accelerated course between circus contracts. It’s something she loves as much as she loves performing on the trapeze. Her name is on the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, which allows her to volunteer with local EMT services in each place she performs.
She’s already applied to work with EMTs in Baton Rouge, just as she worked with emergency services in Lafayette in early July, two weeks before John “Rusty” Houser gunned down 11 people in The Grand Theatre 16, killing two.
“It really hit me when I saw the news about the shootings in Lafayette on TV,” Michels-Gualtieri says. “I recognized the movie theater, because some of us from the show had gone there to see a movie. I was volunteering that week with the EMTs, and I started thinking about how I might have been treating some of the people who were in there.”
As it was, she answered regular calls with the EMTs, one even involving an elderly, Cajun French-speaking woman.
“I speak Parisian French, and when we answered this call, there was this woman speaking French with a different accent,” Michels-Gualtieri says. “I’d never heard Cajun French, but I could understand what she was saying, and I could communicate with her, so we could help her. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
The circus usually arrives at its destination early in the week, giving its performers Mondays through Thursday mornings off. And it’s during this down time when Michels-Gualtieri is asked about her “day job,” which really is a night job.
“I’ll be talking to people while riding with the EMTs, and I’ll tell them I’m the trapeze artist,” she says, laughing. “They’ll say, ‘No, really?’ It’s hard for them to believe. But I’m up there.”
Most people can’t help reverting to what has become a stale joke when considering this role: “Oh, so you ran away with the circus.”
“I hear that from everyone,” Michels-Gualtieri says with more laughter. “I hear it everywhere I go.”
The Washington, D.C., native passed up a chance to major in petroleum engineering at Wellesley College to join the circus. But did she really want to spend her life as a petroleum engineer?
“Oh no,” she says. “I wouldn’t have liked it. I know now that I’d like to do something in the medical field after I leave the circus.”
Michel-Gualtieri is 25, so retirement is still in the distance.
Her first circus experience was through a high school internship. She later attended circus schools in Montreal; Torino, Italy; and Paris and traveled with circuses throughout Europe.
“My friends were graduating from these great colleges, and I begin thinking, ‘What have I done with my life?’” she says. “But then I realized that I’ve received an education from my time in the circus. I’ve traveled throughout the world, and now I speak three different languages.”
The trapeze artist began her United States tour after signing a contract with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. Her education continues.
“I’ve traveled to places in the United States that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been in the circus,” she says. “And I’ve been able to meet the local people through working with the EMTs. I wouldn’t have as much local contact if I hadn’t been volunteering, and I love it so much.”
She pauses, then laughs.
“I feel like I’m so lucky, because when I go to work, I get to do the things I love most,” she says. “I love the circus, and I love doing EMT work. I am so fortunate.”
In following her passions, she required intense training in both fields. On the trapeze, the training was 30 and 40 feet in the air.
An instructor in Italy once ordered her to do her routine blindfolded.
“I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’” Michels-Gualtieri says. “But he wasn’t. He was from Russia and very serious. So, I did it.”