Home >> Alumni Spotlight
Kathryn Martell (MBA ’11) talks about her life as a circus performer

I am an athlete but I’m also a performer. However as you grow up and focus on getting into the right college and finding the right career you tend to lose sight of who you really are. But after Goldman Sachs closed down my trading department I was able to revisit aspects of my true self that I had denied for some time. It began with a serendipitous trip to Club Med where I first experienced the flying trapeze. As a gymnast, I was a natural and instantly knew that the circus arts – which are a combination of athletics and performance – were to be the focus of the next phase of my life.

My business background enabled me, along with some circus instructors from Club Med, to open a flying trapeze school which is where I got my initial training. While the school was successful I wanted more of my focus to be on circus arts.

Once back home I was granted that opportunity almost magically. (First I must tell you that one of my desires from my first week of Spanish class during my junior year of high school was to become fluent in Spanish – this was another thing that I had put aside in the search for the right college and career.) One morning I awoke from a troubling dream in which I had tried to say ‘cat’ and ‘clothes’ and other Spanish level 1 words but could not. In my dream, every bit of Spanish I had ever learned had vanished from my brain. I leapt out of bed, ran to the radio, turned on a Spanish station and left it there in hopes of becoming fluent through osmosis. Soon after, I heard a commercial for a Mexican Circus performing in Queens. I researched the circus on the internet, found an agent who had recruited for it, and sent her my CV and circus photos. The next day she came back with an offer from a Mexican circus, not the one in Queens, but a Mexican circus in Tijuana.

It offered room and board, the opportunity to become a circus artist and the chance to practice my Spanish. I had to go.

Within three days of my arrival I was placed in the circus’ dance numbers. Performing was so easy and fun and it was by far the best job I had ever had. I worked my way up to equestrian trick rider and was performing handstands and human pyramids on horses in the show – despite never having ridden a horse before. I can now mount a galloping horse and – thanks to all the shows I spent standing on the back of a cantering horse – today I ride the subway without holding on.

However, no job is as perfect as the initial offer makes it sound and I did run into some challenges. For example, I got sick with pneumonia and ended up in the hospital which was a terrifying experience. But by the end of my year and a half there I could walk into any doctor in any part of the Mexican Baja and receive treatment for any ailment I might have. Another example is when my roommate and I were ejected from our trailer so the circus owner could house her brother-in-law instead. At 11 pm, the night of the circus’ debut, my roommate and I found ourselves homeless in Tijuana which was another terrifying experience. But by the end of my year and a half there I could get myself to any town in the Mexican Baja and procure myself affordable housing.

At the end of my tour I was a circus star recognized up and down the Baja peninsula and I was fluent in Spanish. When I resumed my MBA curriculum at Baruch I also studied Spanish literature so now I am not only fluent in Spanish, but also literate.

From my circus experience I learned many things, like to twirl a lasso, to enjoy spicy foods, to feed myself with $4 a day. Moreover, I learned not to give up, to trust my instincts, and to have faith that everything will eventually work out for the best.

But most importantly, I learned to follow your heart for it is always your truest guide.