Michels-Gualtieri decided to take a year off between high school and college. Her reason? She wanted to attend a circus school for a year, tops. But that year turned into a career. (Courtesy Kaely Michels-Gualtieri)
by Rachel Nania
WASHINGTON - Taking one year off between high school and college was all that Kaely Michels-Gualtieri planned on.
After graduating from The Field School in Northwest D.C., the Capitol Hill resident was accepted to Wellesley College to study engineering. However, instead of heading up to Massachusetts, Michels-Gualtieri followed a time-sensitive passion that took her halfway around the world -- and several feet in the air.
Since she could walk, Michels-Gualtieri was involved in gymnastics. She started with lessons at the YMCA Woodmont Center in Arlington, Va., before moving to the Arlington Aerials in Shirlington, Va. By the time Michels-Gualtieri reached high school, she was a competitive gymnast.
But a two-week period in February 2005 opened the eyes -- and the options -- of the sophomore student.
According to Michels-Gualtieri, the Field School shuts its doors for 10 days every February and forces its students to get a job or an internship.
"I told my mom I didn't want anything boring because I worked in a hospital and ended up photocopying for two weeks and it was awful," says Michels-Gualtieri, who is now 23.
As a joke, Michels-Gualtieri's mom suggested she join the circus to keep from being bored.
"And then we were like, ‘That's a brilliant idea,'" Michels-Gualtieri says.
The next thing she knew, she and her mom were calling up circus schools, but they didn't have any luck finding a circus school with an internship program. Her creative internship plan was side-tabled for a year, but during Michels- Gualtieri's junior year of high school, she spent her two weeks at a circus school in San Francisco.
Before this journey, Michels-Gualtieri spent the majority of her time competing on the ground. Being in the air was not only a new feeling -- it was something she had to get used to.