Without a Barrel

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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Without a Barrel

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