Circus Healing: Giovanna Piumarta’s Road to Recovery

Written by Phoenix Paz, Sales and Marketing Coordinator

Giovanna Piumarta celebrates her one year anniversary with Circus Center this November. Coming three times a week, she trains Aerial Hoop with Caroline and Static Trapeze with Elena.  

Early one Wednesday morning, she walked into my office, her big dark eyes bright, a smile playing along her pink lips.  Joy radiated from her as she shook my hand and took a seat.  

“Thank you for coming to see me,” I said.

“It’s my pleasure.  I’m so thrilled to share my story; Circus Center has changed my life.”

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At 27 years old, Giovanna Piumarta found herself in the emergency room, the result of an inexplicable seizure that almost killed her. On the surface, she seemed healthy; a long time rock and tree climber, Giovanna had always been strong — physically at least. But she nonetheless suffered from bouts of self-doubt, anxiety, and despair, hating herself and fearing the world around her.

When she woke from the seizure in the hospital, the doctors told her what they had found: she was born with a blood vessel malformation in her brain and there was extra blood feeding the part of the cerebral cortex that controls fear, anxiety, doom, and despair. The result was frequent internal brain seizures which would eventually lead to death through seizure or stroke.  She had a 2% chance of survival if she allowed the seizures to continue.

The doctors could fix it with surgery, they told her, but the process was not without risks.  Giovanna decided to go for it.  She was tired of living afraid and the surgery opened the possibility to live the way she always dreamed about.  It offered hope.  She woke up from the operating table unable to talk, walk, read, or write.  “It was scary to wake up from the surgery,” she reflected, “because no one had expected my loss of ability to speak, read or write. It scared the pants off them [the doctors]! They thought they had messed something up while in there.”  However, with patience, determination and hard work, Giovanna began to relearn her basic motor skills.

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Eight months after her surgery, Giovanna considered how far she had come and asked herself: Where do I want to go from here?  What do I want to do with my life?

I want to climb trees and join the circus, she responded.

A quick Google search returned Circus Center and in through our doors she walked.

“I remember my first day,” Giovanna recounted with a smile.  “Kelli was behind the desk.  When I walked through the doors, I felt positive; I felt the joy and the love this place has to offer.  I walked up to Kelli and said ‘I want to do circus.  Where do I start?’”

After determining Giovanna’s interests and finding out where Giovanna was in her recovery process, Kelli helped Giovanna enroll in Friday morning Aerial Conditioning with Elena.

“I was so scared,” Giovanna laughed, “I didn’t want to be stared at.  I didn’t want anybody to notice if I couldn’t keep up.  However, when I came to class, I discovered Circus Center was nothing like that.” Her eyes glowed as she continued: “My favorite memory is actually that first week – and all the following ones – where I couldn’t make it all the way across the floor doing the warm-up exercises.  Nobody stared or called me weak; I was encouraged, but accepted at my limits. I was loved and supported, not dismissed.  Right from the very first.  That’s what makes Circus Center special.”

When I asked what she loves most about training at Circus Center, Giovanna’s answer was instantaneous: the people.

“Google brought me here, but the community is why I stay. The students and the teachers have shown me that I matter.  I was in trapeze this week, and Elena said ‘Good job; you can write now,’ when she saw me taking notes on the lesson from the day.  She remembered.  She remembered that I couldn’t write when I first came and she celebrated my triumph with me.  I love that about this place: the instructors know all of their students, their stories, and work with each one individually.”

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As we walked to the Baby Trapeze Room to take photos, Giovanna confessed: “I admit it; I love looking at my progress pictures. They fill me with pride.”  She continued, “When I started class, I couldn’t walk in a straight line.  However, regular practice and consistent exercises every week in conditioning paid off.  I knew what was expected of me and I could feel the progress as my body began to know what I was asking of it.  I’ve regained the strength I had before the seizure and more.  I have exceeded all my previous strength levels.”

Seeing how far she has come, Giovanna is excited to continue her circus journey. “Coming to Circus Center fills me with joy and calm.  Here is where I come to celebrate achievements and encourage myself, make new friends while finally feeling calm. I let go of the doom and despair at the front door.  I’ve never needed to feel afraid or nervous here; just by coming, I’m on my way to doing the impossible.”

Her biggest dream, she shyly admitted, is spinning on the Hoop.  “I’ve wanted to spin forever; it seems so electrifying.  With my head, I never thought I could, but the doctors say my brain looks better than it ever has and that they think circus has been one of the main reasons.” Additionally, Giovanna dreams of one day performing Duo Trapeze with her best friend Ashley Leonard, who also trains at Circus Center.  

Less than two years after surgery, Giovanna is strong and confident – a confidence she attributes to Circus Center – and feels that her time at the Center has completely changed the way she sees and deals with the world.  She works as an environmental educator at the Presidio and since starting her training, Giovanna has found the courage to start her own business, Pinecone Botanicals, where she creates her own salves and essential oils, collecting the ingredients by hand locally.   She is excited about her new callus cream and sharing it with her friends and fellow students. “I’m living my dreams,” she concluded. “I’m outside, climbing trees, and doing circus.  I’m happy.”

To find out more about Giovanna’s salves and essential oils, check out her website: www.pineconebotanicals.etsy.com.

To learn more about how to support Circus Center's programs, please visit Circus Possible, our Winter Giving Campaign.

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