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November 28th, 2012
09:57 AM ET

Gymnastics and acrobatics help performer rise above addiction

Editor's Note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle - injury, illness or other hardship - they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed.  This week we introduce you to Joe Putignano, the "Crystal Man" in Cirque du Soleil's touring show "Totem."  He shares his story of how he was a rising gymnast with Olympic potential, who came crashing down into a life of alcohol, cocaine and heroin addiction.   After two life-threatening overdoses, he finally got clean, and says it was gymnastics that pulled him back to life.  

Spotlights drench over me in a warm glow, and in this illumination I can no longer hide my past from the world - any insecurities will be exposed to an audience of thousands.  In fear I hold my breath, binding myself to the band’s soft prelude, slowly unraveling myself from a tight spinning ball.  Evolutio means “unrolling” in Latin and is the theme of our Cirque du Soleil show Totem.  Evolution is the common thread in my life, from athlete to drug addict to performer.

The voice of my horrific past sings to me over the live music, and my memories of my life with heroin bleed into my performance.  I am reminded of the fine-tipped syringe I held in my hand with the small words printed “Use once and destroy.”  I feel a strong connection to that statement, envious of those who can use once, put it down, and not be destroyed by it. FULL POST


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