Strange Who You May Meet On The Internet!

I recently met another “Shirley.” Actually, I didn’t meet her in person, I learned about her while surfing the internet. I don’t remember how I found the site that tells about her. I do know, though, that I wasn’t looking for “Shirleys.” One computer entry after another and I began to read about her. She has lived a rather extraordinary life. But before we begin her story, I want to tell you a few facts I know about her.

Shirley stands nine feet tall and weighs 8,180 pounds. By now, I’m sure you’ve guessed that she is an elephant. Why anyone would name an elephant, Shirley, I can’t

Shirley, the circus performer.

Shirley, the circus performer.

imagine. She was a circus performer, so I wondered if someone may have named her after another performer, Shirley Temple. She was  born in Sumatra, Indonesia, in 1948 and was captured in the wild in 1953. She became the property of the Kelly and Miller Bros. Circus. That makes her 67 years old. I wanted to mention her age because the readers of last week’s Shirl and You seemed disappointed to read of the short lifespan of the average white-tailed deer.

Shirley is a survivor. During a succession of zoo and circus owners, she became a traveler. In 1963, she was on board a circus ship that caught fire while docked at Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. She was among the three Asian elephants that were rescued from the vessel. She, along with rescued tigers. lamas and leopards are remembered as marching through the town to safety. Two animals were killed in the incident. The survivors were loaded on trucks and driven to the United States. It’s reported that during this trip the elephant trailer was in a traffic accident. It wasn’t until recent years that the residents of Yarmouth learned that one of the elephants from the circus ship, still survives.

While entertaining audiences all over the world, Shirley spent 24 years of her life with the Carson and Barnes Circus. As a side note, she was in Havana, Cuba, in 1958, when Fidel Castro seized power. She and the entire circus were held captive, for several weeks, before being set free.

Unfortunately at age 28, while performing for the Lewis Brothers Circus. she was

Here you can see Shirley's deformed leg.

Here you can see Shirley’s deformed rear leg.

attacked by a bull elephant and her hind leg was seriously broken. It didn’t heal properly, leaving everyday life somewhat difficult for her. She was then sold to the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo in Monroe, LA. For twenty two years she lived there. Usually, female elephants live in groups but because of her injury she lived alone, kept apart from other elephants. Her keeper, Solomon James, helped provide a loving environment for her, until the zoo decided she would lead a healthier life in a natural habitat. That’s when they contacted “The Elephant Sanctuary,” in Hohenwald, TN. No visitors/tourists there means the elephants can live their lives as elephants. They are provided with heated barns, but many elephants choose to sleep/live outside and wander the acreage. Shirley is now bonding with other elephants and is free to roam in open fields.

Her story does not end here. What was once a dismal life for Shirley, is now changed.

Jenny and Shirley showing affection.

Jenny and Shirley showing affection for each other.

Another memorial day was when Jenny, another crippled elephant entered the sanctuary. Twenty-two years ago, Shirley had acted as a surrogate mother to Jenny. It was an intense and unforgettable meeting between the two former circus elephants.

Shirley is featured in a TV documentary, “The Urban Elephant,” produced by National Geographic. It tells the story of captive pachyderms.The meeting between old friends, Shirley and Jenny, is featured in the film.. After viewing it, most people will be convinced that we humans really underestimate the intelligence and emotions of animals.

Shirley’s life story continues. Although Jenny is no longer living, she is very close with an elephant named Bunny. Now I ask, “who would name an elephant, Bunny?” Sounds like another story, doesn’t it?

“Just In The Nick Of Time”

“Just in the nick of time.” I couldn’t help but think of this idiom when I recently met Nik Wallenda. I wondered just how often this daredevil’s

A view from the parking lot at Circus Sarasota.

A view from the parking lot at Circus Sarasota.

actions were tweaked into submission, ‘just in time.’ He says what he does is all about concentration, focus and training. By the way, this saying dates back to the 1500’s when ‘nick’ meant a critical moment. Nik Wallenda has certainly faced many of these.

 While spending some time away from home in Sarasota, Florida, I was able to meet Nik. This is a circus town and we recently went with family to Circus Sarasota. It’s a great circus and this year they featured Nik

This was the sign that welcomed circus goers.

This was the sign that welcomed circus goers.

What's a circus without clowns?

What’s a circus without clowns?

Wallenda and members of The Flying Wallendas family. Nik is a seventh generation member of this family. 

                                                                    Sarasota became a circus town many years ago, when Ringling chose it as a summer home for Ringling Brothers Circus. The city has circus in its blood. Circus people sense that and congregate, for the winter, there and in the nearby town of Gibsonton.

It’s no surprise that Nik Wallenda has circus and it’s form of entertainment flowing through his veins. Known as “King of the High-Wire,” Nik’s recent feat has people wondering if there is nothing this man can’t accomplish on the high wire. He describes himself as a challenge-driven person. “Don’t tell me, it can’t be done, because I’ll find a way to do it” he says. He holds six Guinness World Records for various acrobatic feats, but is best known as the first person to walk a tightrope stretched directly over Niagara Falls. This he

Entering the circus made us feel the excitement  awaiting us.

Entering the circus made us feel the excitement awaiting us.

accomplished on June 15, 2012. Actually, Wallenda attempts other challenges besides those on the tight rope. A year previously, in June, he hung from a helicopter 250 feet off the ground using only his teeth to hold on. Just last month, his latest feat was right here in Sarasota when on January 29th he walked a high wire 180 feet above beautiful downtown Sarasota. He accomplished this without a tether, on a wire the size of a nickel.

He autographed my circus program, then stood up so my daughter could get a shot of us together. What did I say to him? I think I muttered

My husband, Burl, and I at Circus Sarasota.

My husband, Burl, and I at Circus Sarasota.

something about the great show he put on. My husband, however, asked him if he was a born again Christian. “Yes, I am,” was his quick reply as we moved on in the line of autograph seekers. We knew Nik was a follower of Christ from the testimony he gave while crossing Niagara Falls. Through his microphone he could be heard praying and praising God. “I grew up in a born-again Christian family. A Bible believing, God fearing family. That’s the way I was raised and I find comfort and peace in that,” he said, as he explained that it took lots of

Nik Wallenda with Shirl.

Nik Wallenda with Shirl.

praying before he crossed the Niagara Falls. Moments before strapping on the harness, he joined hands in prayer with his wife, Erindera, an eighth-generation wire walker herself. Fourteen years ago, Nik proposed to her on a wire while kneeling on it 30 feet in the air. They are now the parents of three children.

What’s next for Nik? In the planning is a walk across the Grand Canyon. This is an estimated distance of 5000 feet. He said arrangements are 98 percent certain and that the walk would take place in May or June of 2013 and he is working to get something in writing that says no safety harness would be required for the walk. Imagine this, no matter where he goes, especially unique or different places like the continental divide in Turkey and the Inca ruins at Macchu Picchu, he looks to see where he could string a wire from “here to there and walk it.”

I, one among millions, watched his every step on TV as Nik crossed the treacherous wire strung across Niagara Falls. At the circus, he and family members, feats were amazing, too. With his determination, he will face many more critical moments in life when he will need to react precisely and at the best possible time. I pray his reactions will be “just in the nick of time.”

Photos by JANINE BROSCIOUS