One-armed juggler teaches circus arts, shares experiences with kids

Jason Quick’s truck wouldn’t start, so rather than be stranded, he got on his bicycle and rode through the rain to arrive only a few minutes late for this interview.

“I’m never stranded,” the entertainer said. “There’s always a way. And that’s what my show is about.”

Quick, 35, is a juggler in more ways than one, he also teaches circus skills to his favorite audience: children.

“If you try to categorize me, you’ll find it difficult,” he said. “I do a lot of things.”

Quick lost his right arm when he was six years old. At age 10, he learned to juggle and ride a unicycle.

Question: Do you remember much about the accident in which you lost your arm?

Answer: Yes, I do. I spent most of my childhood in Camas, but Mom went to school at Western (Washington University), and we lived here for a few years. During those few years, I lost my arm. I was playing with friends and climbed into an electrical sub-station on a dare. I was hit with 17,000 volts. Doctors say my heart probably stopped, but I fell on my chest and defibrillated myself. As part of my show I talk to people about how I lost my arm. I get a sense from my audience about how many details they want to hear, and sometimes they ask questions.

Q: Why are you so willing to talk about it?

A: Because (people) are interested. They want to know how I got to where I am. There’s a reason I do the show. I was given a gift growing up. I was supported in not giving up on myself. My mom was in on that gift, and my dad, my grandparents and some of my teachers. I want to let people know there are amazing things they can do if they don’t give up on themselves.

Q: How did you learn to juggle?

A: When I was 10, my grandfather came home from a garage sale with some tennis balls and a unicycle and told me I was going to learn to juggle. And I did. He taught me how to juggle and how to ride the unicycle. I’ve gone to juggling festivals and learned from people there. I watch performances and videos and teach myself to do what I see. I’ve invented my own style of juggling. I’ve been teaching circus arts — juggling, unicycle riding, tightrope walking, trapeze, tumbling and clowning — in Bellingham and Seattle for the last five years.

Q: How do you teach circus arts?

A: It’s a hard question to answer because every single time, the group is different. I have a conversation with kids and try to understand what they are interested in, and I tailor the class to their individual needs and interests. With performances, it’s the same. I tailor the show to the interests and maturity of the audience. I do a mix of improvisational slapstick comedy and personal stories — and world-class juggling. I can keep four tennis balls going for a while, maybe for 100 catches. For some shows, I juggle bowling balls.

Q: Did you learn teaching skills in college?

A: I moved up from Camas in 1993 to attend Western. I have a degree in biology. I love to hike; I love to be out in the woods. When I originally went to Western, I wanted to be an interpretive naturalist, so I took a dual major in environmental education and biology. When my daughter was born, I didn’t want to do seasonal work. I wanted something where I could be home most of the time, so I started juggling professionally. I’m now studying counseling through Bastyr University (in Seattle). I hope to finish in June and work as a family counselor.

Q: What leads you to counseling?

A: Teaching leads me to counseling. I’ve taught for 10 years. I’ve taught all ages. I’ve taught pre-school and I’ve been an assistant kindergarten teacher. I’ve taught gymnastics and teachers’ workshops. I run an art program at Camp Willie, a grief camp for kids near Arlington. I found that what was most interesting to me in working with kids was helping them learn to relate to each other in a healthy way. That included working with their families. I’m looking for ways to contribute to my community, and I’ve found a lot of ways to do that. Each thing I’ve done has led me to the next thing. Counseling fits with my mission to inspire people to respect themselves and respect their relationships with others. That’s all been part of my show, and I’m taking it to the next level.