• Ron Finnigan

The Fire-Breathing Undergraduate



This is one of my favorite blog postings originally published in October 2015.

One of this year’s First Year Undergraduates is a fire-breathing, unicycle-riding juggler! His name is Paul Campbell and this 18-year old (turning 19 in January) comes from a circus family. He has been performing in his father’s circus company, Circus Delights in West Carleton, since he was twelve years old, although he began his training when he was only ten. Paul is currently pursuing a degree in Social Work and lives with his cousin in Kanata, a much shorter commute than the one from his family home in West Carleton. He grew up with three older siblings, two sisters and a brother, and his parents also sheltered foster kids that were younger than him. Paul refined his listening skills and developed compassion for the young children in his parents care, and this experience was the inspiration for pursuing Social Work. Paul had considered Cognitive Science in High School, but he decided he had much better people skills than math skills. Primary education for the youngest Campbell was an unusual one compared to the schooling most of us received. Paul was home-schooled from grade 4 through 7 before he returned to the public school system in grade 8. During these four years he followed the Ontario Curriculum on his own developing advanced research and note-taking skills that he is now finding invaluable at Carleton. Despite not making friends his age at school during those four years, Paul was heavily involved in soccer and hockey and had many good friends from those sports. In the winter, Paul’s father would make an ice rink in the backyard and he would play hockey with his brother after school and on weekends. Paul’s experience as a performer had challenged him to develop a gregarious, out-going personality despite his inherent shyness. He made many friends in high school and was well-liked by his peers. He continued playing hockey. Growing up playing with baby and adult elephants, lions, and tigers gave him the skills to easily handle much bigger players on the ice. In the winter, circus performing slowed down, allowing Paul to concentrate on his studies and practice more new tricks in the family’s over-sized garage / barn. But when summer rolled around, Paul the performer was raring to go. He never had trouble with summer jobs as his dad’s circus company continued to grow, and Paul was featured at corporate events, private parties and at virtually every busking festival in the Ottawa region. Recently Paul traveled across the United States with an American circus company, Culpepper and Merriweather, and developed quite a loyal following on their Facebook page. His typical day started at 5:00 AM. Performers, like Paul, are also part of the manual labour that unpacks all the gear, sets up the big top and rides, and then has to get ready for his own performance. He usually didn’t get to bed until midnight, but then had to get up at 5:00 AM the next morning and start all over again, but he loved it. An added benefit was that he never felt so fit as he did at the end of that gig. At 5 feet, 6 inches and 136 pounds, Paul is in pretty terrific physical condition. In addition to practicing his routines almost every day, he also does yoga and meditation at least four times a week. He could run circles on a unicycle around the rest of us while juggling lit torches! Need I mention that the ability to juggle things, like class schedules, mentor meetings, study and PASS groups, shopping, laundry and all the other undertakings of university life is a required undergraduate skill? One of the biggest advantages of being an accomplished performer who has been gainfully employed since the age of twelve is that Paul is able to completely finance his own education from his savings. He pays his own rent, food and tuition and, because he plans to continue busking and performing until he graduates (and even beyond graduation) he feels he will be debt-free by the time he graduates. It should be no surprise that Paul loves professional hockey, although it might surprise other Ottawa residents to learn his team is the Montreal Canadiens, not the Senators. This is a passion he inherited from his father and brother, who are also big fans. In addition, his family shares a lot more than just hockey. Paul describes his father as his hero and his brother as his best friend. In comparing a picture of himself at ten to one of his father at the same age, he tells me they could be twins. He has a great relationship with all his family and sees his father as a brilliant man who he could trust with anything. His mother is a kind, generous and loving person who would do anything for her family. His whole family is adventurous and fun-loving, and he relishes every outing together. Paul is currently in a relationship which was recently posted on his Facebook page. He met his current girlfriend at the Kanata bus stop and they have been dating ever since. As a professional busker, he learned that flirting with females sometimes resulted in bigger tips and, if they were reluctant to drop some money into the collection hat, he’d use the line, “If you don’t have any money, you can always leave your phone number.” But in truth Paul is less of a flirt and more of a romantic who likes to hold hands and cuddle in front of the TV. Tattoos and piercings are rampant among the performers in Paul’s profession, but the most radical thing he has ever done is sported a Mohawk haircut a few years ago. He hasn’t completely ruled tattoos out, though, telling me that he might get one with a unicycle, a man, and a bunny tattooed over his heart. A bunny? Yes a bunny. When his dad first started his circus business, he would go to children’s parties with his unicycle and a bunny. After doing tricks on the cycle, his Dad would make the bunny appear out of a magician’s top hat. The tattoo would be an homage to his father and the origins of his circus life. Who would have thought that riding a unicycle, juggling and breathing fire would prepare someone so well for university life? Paul has this enthusiastic intensity that’s contagious. He has the imagination, dedication and commitment to set the world on fire. Breathing fire helps.

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