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A Hard Act To Follow

At one point Walfer Guerrero performed as a high-wire artist, part of a family troupe in its sixth generation in the business. "It becomes part of you," Guerrero says. "It's almost addictive. It takes your soul, you know. It steals it."

48 Hours Correspondent Harold Dow reports on how the tightrope walker paid a high price to follow his dream.

Guerrero is in the Guinness Book of World Records for jump roping on a tightrope. He did it 1,250 times in a row. But his real claim to fame was the stunt that has made him and his family legends in the circus world: the seven-man pyramid. Ringling Brothers talent scout Tim Holst, who has seen a lot of performances, says that no act frightens him more.

The Guerrero family was the only troupe in the world literally risking their lives day in and day out with the seven-man pyramid. They did it the hard way, without a net. "We don't use a net because wire's like an art," Guerrero said a few years ago. "If you use a net, it takes away from that. Then
you're not really doing anything."

Even Ringling Brothers performers looked up to the Guerreros. "It's the pure definition of teamwork," Holst says.

Walfer Guerrero, after the accident
But on Feb. 12, 1997, Guerrero, then 28, found out just how risky life on a high wire can be. That night performing in Richmond, Va., he was a little tired and made the biggest mistake of his life. He fell, injuring his spine.

The accident transformed his life. Now he is confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down. Doctors say that he will never be able to walk again. Guerrero is defiant, though: "I don't think that anybody can tell any human being what they can or cannot do with their life." He exercises his upper body constantly.

Guerrero remains committed to the family vocation. He believes the show must go on. "When they're out there, they feel that they're doing what they were born to do," he says. "How can I take that away from them?"

After the accident, the Guerreros decided to continue performing the seven-man pyramid. They needed to find replacements for Walfer and his wife Angelina, though. Three more Guerreros stepped in to fill the void. Just five weeks after the accident, on opening night at New York's Madison Square Garden, they successfully pulled off this difficult, dangerous stunt.

Walfer Guerrero insists he has no regrets about his decision to become a high-wire artist. He would do it all again tomorrow if he could, he says.

It's now been two years since his fall. He still can't perform or walk. He spends ost of his time at home in Sarasota, Fla. He no longer lives with his wife or daughter, but hopes his child reaches higher than he did - and not just not under the big top.

"One of the most important things in my life is my daughter," he says. "I don't want the things that happened to me to happen to her. I want her to go to school, get a good education and have a good opportunity in life away from our business.Â"

"Because our business is a dying breed of people; it's not what it used to be and it's not worth it anymore," he adds.

Walfer's brother, Warner Guerrero, and his wife are still with the circus, walking the high wire every night.

"It's a way of life," Warner Guerrero says. "You have it inside you; you've done it for so many years. Sometimes you say, Â'I can't do it; I'm tired; I can't do it anymore.Â' But you see the audience inside; you forget."

Produced by David Kohn;

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