Bernadette Pace is caught by Nicholas Port. Photo by Darryl Smith

Bernadette Pace is caught by Nicholas Port. Photo by Darryl Smith


In 1970, when she was a young mother, Bernadette Pace joined the Denver YMCA, but instead of taking up running or swimming she decided to try something different. “I was out of shape, and they had a trapeze,” she says. “I tried it and I loved it. They had two sessions a week and I rarely got more than six turns, but I was hooked.” Forty-six years later, Pace’s enthusiasm for flying hasn’t diminished.

Pace spent 12 more years in Denver, and when her (now former) husband accepted a position at Indiana University in 1983, she built her own high-flying trapeze and brought it to Bloomington with her. She didn’t have a space big enough for the trapeze until 1985, when she set up the rig in her yard on High Street. It’s still there and Pace, 73, is still flying.

Pace says hundreds of people have swung from her flying trapeze over the years. “I have a stack of liability releases at least two feet high,” says the founder of the Bloomington High Flyers. These days she flies with a core group of about 10. They meet every evening from spring through Thanksgiving. It’s her way of life. When she took guardianship of her two granddaughters in 2000 — Carmen was 3; Isabelle was 6 — it became their way of life, too.

Many of those who have flown with her have gone on to join famous flying troupes, putting on performances in major European cities and around the world. Others have opened studios teaching aerial arts.

Pace admits to being slightly less physically fit than she was a few years ago. “Up until I was 71, I could always do 10 full-arm chin-ups,” she says. “On a good day I could do 13.” Then her shoulder started acting up. She says she should have quit the trapeze and let her shoulder heal, but she didn’t. “But then I hurt my knee,” she says with a laugh. Pace had a knee replacement in March and says while recuperating from that, her shoulder healed. Now she’s back on the platform, flying with her troupe.

“I can’t do all the tricks I used to do, but last night I was doing the Penny Drop, one of my favorite tricks,” she says with her characteristic smile. “And I wasn’t thinking about my knee.”