Springs gymnast dies performing high-flying stunt

BRIAN GOMEZ Updated: December 5, 2010 at 12:00 am • Published: December 5, 2010

Bo Frese, known as “the Pied Piper of circus in Colorado Springs” because of high-flying gymnastics stunts and never-before-seen aerial tricks that captivated fans worldwide, died Monday after breaking his neck during practice at an area training facility. He was 37.

The Doherty High School graduate fractured his second cervical vertebra Saturday as he went through maneuvers at ArtSports World, falling inches short of a foam pit on a drop estimated at 30 feet. He never regained consciousness, and he had no brain activity when doctors removed him from life support with his family and friends at his bedside.

“Our best friend is gone,” said Mike Zapp, the owner of ArtSports trampoline club.

Zapp reported that Frese, recovering from a head injury he suffered while attempting the same stunt last month at a circus in Belgium, landed on a “highly padded area.” However, since Frese was so far above the ground, “it’s not hard to be a little off,” Zapp said. “He was trying to go into the pit, but not too far into the pit, and he didn’t quite make it into the pit. … He didn’t take it out far enough. One more foot, and he would have been OK.”

A YouTube sensation, Frese helped Wasson win the 1989 state championship and claimed the 1992 floor exercise state title at Doherty, then fell in love with trampoline and tumbling, a transition that sparked his career as an acrobat. If he wasn’t performing flips or high dives, he was doing handstands or somersaults – anything that created a little bit of fear and a whole lot of adrenaline rushing through his body.

Frese jumped off cliffs on Mexican beaches. Recently in Europe, he twirled sticks of fire while spinning in the air. Sometimes, he would stay awake all night, merely to exercise in hopes of perfecting his unique craft. On a YouTube video he uploaded of himself flipping around at ArtSports in 2007, he wrote, “I hate to feel the Earth beneath my feet.”

Zapp dismissed the notion that Frese, a volunteer coach at ArtSports, subjected himself to more danger than the average gymnast. Frese had executed the maneuver that killed him thousands of times without incident, and after his head smashed against the trampoline in Belgium instead of his back, he told Zapp he realized “that he’s not invincible.”

“He was very methodical,” Zapp said. “He broke everything down. He was real smart. He didn’t go for things. He trained to get ready for things, and step by step, he got closer and closer. He did everything into the pit. He made sure there was no consequence as he was learning things. … He never risked himself. He never did anything risky.”

To Zapp, Frese was “a magnificent performer” and “an unbelievable athlete.” He went as far as calling him “physical magic,” noting that he was “not your usual person. He was an extreme physical artist. He could do things that you just can’t imagine.”

“Everybody loved him,” Zapp added. “We’re competitors, but nobody saw him that way. … He was a circus guy. He was better than all the rest of us.”

The day before the accident, in talking with Zapp, Frese said, “This period of my life has become my favorite of all time. This is the best time in my life.” Zapp said it’s painfully bittersweet knowing Frese died “in his favorite place, doing his favorite thing. … He had a silly personality. He lived to make people laugh and to enjoy.” 

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