“I have been a gymnast since basically the time I was a fetus,”says Ryan Weston, the Head of Acrobatics and Program Development at the Circus Arts Conservatory’s Sailor Circus Academy. “I started competing internationally at the age of 10 and won the World Age Group Championships in Germany. My career just kind of springboarded from there.” Weston is being modest. Throughout his career, he won the National Championships eight times in gymnastics trampoline, before going on to be an alternate for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. The next leap in his career led him to Orlando, Florida, where he performed with Cirque du Soleil for 10 years before moving to Montreal to coach for the company for two years. 

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan.


Fast forward to 2020 and Weston found himself back in Orlando, preparing to perform again, when everything shut down—including his health. “Right after COVID shut down everything, I was in the hospital having my entire large intestine removed from my body. I’d suffered with Crohn’s Disease for the prior decade, but in 2020 it came to a head. I went into the hospital and my doctor said my colon was completely gone,” says Weston. The next two years featured a string of surgeries, which Weston recuperated from at his brother’s house in Utah. He even performed as Michael Jackson for Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas sporting a colostomy bag. 

“Last year at Christmas time, I had the first of two surgeries, to repair my stomach and then about 10 weeks ago was my last surgery to have everything completed for the full complete reversal,” says Weston. “At this time, I was working with Jennifer Mitchell at the Circus Arts Conservatory. I had been approached by them a few times, and I'd actually approached them. I love Sarasota and I love Florida, and I said, "Yeah, if there's any place I could live in Florida, it would be Sarasota." 

And so Weston, now 42, somersaulted into the latest chapter of his long and winding career, working with the next generation of circus performers. “It's not Cirque du Soleil, but it's not Cirque du Soleil. There's good and bad with all those scenarios. I think with a much smaller ship, you can have much more autonomy in your job and be able to kind of shape young lives, which is what their program is about,” says Weston. At the Circus Arts Conservatory, Weston has the chance to develop the acrobatics program from the ground up, with his own vision, unencumbered by the bureaucracy of a larger organization such as Cirque du Soleil. “I think that the basis of a successful circus program starts with a good, solid foundation in acrobatics. Before we put you up in the air, on the trapeze, on the aerial silks, or the lyra, we’ve got to make sure that you're strong, flexible, and able to do the basics on the ground,” says Weston. 

The opportunity to instill his vision into a program is part of what made Sarasota the perfect landing spot for this lifelong acrobat. “As you get older, you've got to kind of really look at what is the best for you, not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, spiritually. All those things come into play,” says Weston. “This is not only an opportunity for me to keep my foot in performing, but also to help really develop their program at the Circus Arts Conservatory and inspire the next generation. Those things matter. They bring me joy.”