Skip To Content

    This Woman Paralyzed From The Waist Down Became An Aerial Performer

    "I thought, that has to be impossible, but if I can master it I'll be able to do anything."

    Meet Lauren Watson, a 34-year-old with incomplete paraplegia from Queensland, Australia, who shocked doctors by going from a wheelchair to performing as an aerial artist.

    Courtesy of Lauren Watson
    Courtesy of Lauren Watson

    In 2000 when Lauren was only 19, a car accident left her partially paralyzed from the waist down.

    "I remember thinking it was all a bad dream," Watson told BuzzFeed Life in an email. Her spinal cord injuries resulted in incomplete paraplegia, and she lost the majority of motor and sensory function in her legs. After the accident, she remained in the hospital for six months relearning how to do everything from scratch before she could leave in her new wheelchair.

    Watson struggled with physical therapy for a decade until she came across an aerial demonstration at the mall.

    Courtesy of Lauren Watson

    "[PT] for me was a constant reminder of how I was different; it made me feel more disabled," she said. Then one physiotherapist encouraged her to find opportunities that allowed her to laugh and have fun. When she saw the aerial demonstration, she decided to try it. "I thought, That has to be impossible, but if I can master it I'll be able to do anything."

    It took Watson months to find an aerial school that would take her, she says, and even longer to pull herself up.

    Even her physiotherapist was skeptical and told Watson she couldn't do it.

    "I sometimes wonder if I should tell that physiotherapist that he motivated me more by his lack of support and in a way he helped me get to where I am today," said Watson.

    Courtesy of Lauren Watson

    Over the next two years, she became a skilled aerial performance artist by adapting poses, tricks, and apparatuses to her disability. With focus and practice, she was able to achieve her dream. Watson has gone on to perform circus art acts with Flyworx and in a music video for Sydney band Little Fox.

    "Aerial makes me realize everything is achievable because I feel empowered to take on new challenges," said Watson. "I always find new ways to make it work."

    Courtesy of Lauren Watson

    Watson says adaptive aerial arts has given her extensive knowledge about the mechanics of her body, and it's forced her to think more creatively to constantly adapt positions.

    Watson says she hopes her story encourages the integration of performing arts and disabilities.

    Courtesy of Lauren Watson / Via!photo-6841393

    She's received incredible feedback from people with paraplegia, amputations, and chronic illness, she says, which inspired her to start her blog Fitness to Free, as well as a YouTube channel to share her journey and provide information for other prospective performers who may or may not identify with having a disability.

    "Disability or not, we are all just people chasing the dream to be the best that we can be with what we have."

    You go, girl!

    Want to be the first to see product recommendations, style hacks, and beauty trends? Sign up for our As/Is newsletter!

    Newsletter signup form