Without a Barrel

What drove Kirk Jones to jump into Niagara Falls?

| June 2004

In October 2003, Kirk Jones jumped into Niagara Falls. It was not an accident, stunt or dare. Instead, Jones was moved to jump out of desperation to change his life. Without a job, wife, or home, 40-year Jones had nothing to lose. In his Outside magazine profile on Jones, writer Jake Halpern describes the jump as a life-or-death test. 'If he died, his unhappiness would be over,' stated Halpern, 'if he lived, his life was bound to be charged with new meaning.'

According to Halpern, the fact that Jones survived his trip over Niagara Falls is incredible. After falling 170 feet, he hit the water at 25 miles per hour. Instead of being sucked under the water like many before him, Jones swam to the shore with only 2 fractured ribs and a bruised vertebra. It was a fate that professional stuntmen would have declared a success. However, Niagara Parks Police promptly arrived, giving him a visit to a local psychiatric ward, three days in jail, and $3,600 in fines for the charges of criminal mischief and performing an illegal stunt.

'If a professional daredevil like Evel Knievel announced that he would be going over the falls without protection, the stunt would have been globally televised and people would still be buzzing about it,' states Halpern. With the exception of an appearance on Good Morning America, Jones received little notoriety for his jump. He returned to obscurity with the upbeat attitude of a motivational speaker. 'Sometimes you have to believe in yourself, even when no one else does. I had this deep inner belief that I could do this.'

Nowadays, Jones is a headliner for the Toby Tyler Circus. Billed as the World's Greatest Stuntman, Jones's main feat is answering questions about his jump during intermission. The fact that his jump wasn't a stunt -- in fact, it bears a greater resemblance to a suicide attempt -- complicates his role. 'He can't credit his success to hard-spent years of physical and mental preparation; he can't claim that skill had anything to do with his survival,' notes Halpern. 'In essence, Jones played Russian roulette and won.'

As the World's Greatest Stuntman, Jones has continued to fine tune his account. Halpern watched as audience members asked Jones whether the jump was a suicide attempt. 'Now, you see, it's really about my will to survive,' he told them.
-- Anastasia Masurat

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