July 6, 2011
WORK’S A BLAST FOR FEMALE HUMAN CANNONBALL
Many children go into their family’s business. They’re probably not as exciting a career choice as Jennifer Smith’s, who can truly say that work’s a blast. After all, she is a human cannonball.
Yep, the 35-year-old mother of two spends 150 to 200 days a year traveling the globe being shot out of a 27-foot-long cannon. To her, there’s nothing odd about it. It’s how she grew up.
“It was just what my dad was,” said Smith, who is known as the “Cannon Lady” and has been a human cannonball since she was 16 years old. “I didn’t think it was strange until I was older. My dad did it, and so did my older sister. So being a typical kid I wanted to do what my sister was doing.”
It’s been the family business since 1975 when her father, Dave “Cannonball” Smith, quit catching other aerial artists, built a cannon, and began flying through the air. He held the Guinness World’s Record for the longest human cannonball flight – traveling at more than 70mph for a distance of more than 185 feet.
“I love my lifestyle and love the travel,” said Smith, a Missouri resident who has performed more than 3,000 successful launches in 11 countries and throughout the United States. The family has made special appearances together on The Today Show and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, otherwise they perform separately. Although, Smith maintains a personal family connection as her husband, Rob, handles her set ups and operates the truck-mounted cannon.
“We met at a motor-cross event,” said Smith of her thrill-seeking husband, who gave up riding to blast his wife on a regular basis and has himself blown up at events by crawling into a box of dynamite. “He has to be nice to me, I pack his explosives,” she said with a laugh.
The 5-foot-2-inch Smith spends her days carefully preparing for her performances, checking the mechanics of the cannon as well as the wind and temperatures which can affect the cannon, her net, and her flight. At the appointed time, she climbs all the way down the barrel of the 36-inch wide, 27-foot-long cannon to be shot through the air at a height of 60 feet, safely landing seconds later into a 19-foot-by-52-foot net some 125 feet away.
One of just three known female cannonballers in the world, she flies higher and farther than her counterparts.
“I love the flying through the air part,” said Smith. “The cannon scares me, but not the flight.”
It is a death-defying stunt; fortunately for Smith, the most serious injury she’s suffered was a broken elbow after she bounced out of the landing net, falling 18 feet onto a concrete floor.
Check the festival’s web site at www.balloonfestival.com to see her performance schedule. Her Sunday morning flight will be a little different than normal; instead of shooting a pistol to start our “Running with the Balloons” 5K Race, we’ll shoot Smith out of a