The fall in Providence Sunday night was shocking: eight circus performers plunging to earth when a key piece of rigging failed during their performance. But to the father of one of the injured young women — himself a lifelong circus performer — the risk of the work has long been understood.
“We work this way, and we take the risk,” said Roiter Neves, 50, the father of 25-year-old Ringling Brothers acrobat Widny Neves, speaking by phone from his home in Brazil. “It’s like a lot of other professions, like race car drivers and gymnasts ... Usually it doesn’t happen. But sometimes, [it] happens.”
The elder Neves knows the danger firsthand, from his own painful experience: in 1989, when he was 25 — the same age his daughter is now — he suffered a similar fall from a height of 40 feet, he said, breaking both his feet and legs. It took years for him to make a full recovery.
Eventually, though, he returned to work with the circus, where he had begun performing when he was 11.
Neves, who has since retired, said his daughter has a broken arm and suffered back and neck injuries in the accident Sunday night, and is expected to miss several months of work while she undergoes physical therapy. Neves said his wife will travel from Brazil to Providence on Tuesday to be with their daughter.
A performer with a lineage that goes back generations, Widny Neves followed in the footsteps of her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather when she chose a life in the circus, Roiter Neves said.
First, though — to appease her parents — the young woman went to college and earned a degree.
“Then she said to us, ‘Here is your diploma. Now I want to go to the circus,’” the elder Neves recounted Monday, laughing at the memory.
“Of course I worry, and her mother worries, but what can we do?” Neves said. “I used to do the same to my father.
“This is the circus life,” he said.
Roiter Neves said he doesn’t blame Ringling Brothers, which he called “the best circus in the world.”
“Whoever made the hook that broke - this is the problem,” he said.
More important, though, is that his daughter will be OK.
“I’m very happy she’s alive,” he said.