Fire Eating Loss

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

A story of how I went from just being interested in fire eating, gaining accolades from fellow performers for my abilities, to becoming one of the best fire eaters in the world, and then losing an
art I adored.

My name is April Jennifer Choi, and I used to be a Fire Eater. Over the years, I put in thousands of hours to become one of the most well-known, knowledgeable, and skilled fire-eaters in the world. Over the course of three years, I learned and categorized hundreds of fire-eating tricks and variations. I demonstrated, edited, and produced six volumes of The Fire Eating Tricktionary. I became one of the Admins of the largest fire eating Group on Facebook. I invented new fire eating torches and styles. I performed and taught Fire Eating for some of the top fire arts events in the US.

About a year and a half ago, I started to get sick. At first, I assumed this was due to a new medication, but a pattern emerged– I was getting sick for days after fire-eating practice. On my birthday last year, April 13th, nausea, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, profuse sweating, abdominal cramps, and tachycardia set in. This was so severe that my fiancée, Bethany, tried to call an ambulance. I begged her no, before losing consciousness on the bathroom floor. This was the first time I had fuel poisoning, but not the last.

Over the course of the coming year, I was already booked to teach and perform fire eating all around the US; I went ahead with my schedule. After every major workshop, I would get sick. I cut back on my practice, and I noticed things got better. Due to other health issues, I have blood work on a bi-monthly basis. After one blood test, my doctor asked if there was anything I was doing that could be throwing the test off. I mentioned fire eating, which my doctor had seen me do in the local 4th of July celebration. My doctor recommended that I stop completely, and requested a follow-up test in two weeks. Two weeks crept by, in which I was unable to demonstrate any fire eating with fuel, despite teaching five fire-eating classes at PlayThink Movement Festival during that time period. I returned home, had my blood drawn, and the results were back within normal range.

I spent the autumn months teaching and performing with a limited trick set, nothing advanced,  and with few negative occurrences. During this time, I decided to discontinue being a full-time performer and resume my engineering career. When the invitations for the 2018 festival season started to come in at the end of the year, I was repeatedly requested to teach and perform fire eating. I said yes, to way too many events, including both fire-eating workshops and a few fire eating world record attempts. I regret those choices.

The season kicked off, and I noticed that I was growing more sensitive. Filming for the “Best of Fire Eating” video, I limited my number of takes but felt ill for days after. I tried to rationalize and write it off; this could not be happening to me. During Flame Festival, one year exactly since my birthday celebration that I collapsed at, I noticed my symptoms were still more sensitive—to being around both UPLO and white gas. I started to ask questions and research what else could cause my decline. I changed my diet because I noticed that vegans and people with strict diets, seemed to suffer a bit more after fire eating or fire-breathing. I also found people who slept less, who weighed less, as well as others who didn’t use substances that potentially masked their symptoms, seemed to suffer more. I set out to better my lifestyle, to reduce the amount I would get sick, looking toward vitamin supplementation and cleaner fuels to improve my outlook.
Things did improve, until a long workshop in Iowa attempting a fire-eating world record. I felt terrible immediately and had to take the following day on bed rest. Things went downhill from here faster and faster. I filmed my submission for a fire-breathing collaboration video. Even using the standard, UPLO, which is considerably safer than white gas, and only a few breaths, I was sick once again. I was so sick that I decided then that I would quit fire-breathing; while it is an art that I enjoy, I love Fire Eating. Since I was still to teach at Kinetic Fire, the biggest fire festival in the Midwest, I took a few weeks off and hoped for the best.

At Kinetic Fire, I taught only three classes, one of which I supported with minimal demonstrations. I restricted the second class to a discussion. The third class involved vapor tricks, during which I did a few demos and some play with the other instructors. I did less than ten vapor tricks total. Within hours, things were bad. I decided not to participate in the fire circle and go to bed early. I couldn’t sleep due to painful cramping. Nausea, headache, sweating, and racing pulse joined in; I staggered to find a bathroom as fast as I could. I spent an hour that felt like forever with severe diarrhea, vomiting into a trash can, and feeling the worst I’ve ever felt in my life. The pain was intense, and nausea and irregular heart rate caused things to shimmer away in tunnel vision. When I was able to speak, I began yelling for help.
An event organizer heard me and radioed for a medic. The medic arrived, and I explained the situation as best I could. He said he could request an ambulance– and I seriously considered it– but I knew the situation and there wasn’t much to be done. After much comforting and examining, the medic retrieved my fiancée. I faced the fact that just a handful of vapor tricks caused my situation, and I had to completely stop both fire-breathing or fire eating.

I’ve always been chemically sensitive. A single coffee will keep me awake for many hours. A dose of Dramamine knocks me out. When going under general anesthesia for the first time, I was incorrectly dosed due to my low weight, and I spent the following days vomiting at home. Even with better sleep, diet, trying to find a cleaner fuel, and gaining weight, my situation was ugly.
I didn’t think much of fire eating in the beginning, but I fell for it hard. It connected me with an international talent agent and opened doors to performing around the world. I had world records and TV shows lined up to see what I can do with fire. I make love to fire in such that it dances on my lips. These are no parlor tricks; this is my joy, my pride, joining me to a global community of magicians, entertainers, and artists. I am admired for this. Despite that, as the sun was coming up at Kinetic, I faced the fact that fire eating is killing me.

The decision to quit fire eating is not an easy one. I am grieving. Some of my closest friends, my best companions, and my most trusted confidants developed because of this art. So many people I love and cherish were at Kinetic Fire, there to see as I was escorted to bed, to cry myself to sleep.
The next afternoon, I sat with my people, who inspire me so much. I cried in their arms and they cried back. They reminded me that I have other passions that are not fire-breathing or eating. I heard them, even as a piece of me was dying. Everyone who takes up this art is warned about the legion of risks, but I did not expect it to feel like this. We ignore the danger until it is all too tangible.

This week, I canceled all my upcoming record attempts, performances, and informed events that I couldn’t demo fire eating in my remaining classes. Each cancellation stung my heart. I continue to feel cold and distant; my dreams are up in smoke; this is not an easy lesson in acceptance.

I’m not leaving the community behind. I must take many steps back, but I will stick around to help people learn this beautiful art as safely as possible. I will help find safer ways to do this and I will warn people about the risks. I want my story to remind everyone that there are dangers to playing with fire other than just getting burned. I hope this warns those that discover their passion for fire arts to be more careful.

I pray for those blessed by the magic of fire eating, may they never be hurt by it. For more than the pain of a blistering burn, is the enduring heartbreak. Please, stay safe out there.

Submitted: July 12, 2018

© Copyright 2022 Without Shade. All rights reserved.

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