Hanging out with Jeri Coffey
Jeri Coffey has a number of hobbies that help her unwind after a tough day working in the operatory. One of the Riverside dentist’s favorite past times is flying. But her version of flying doesn’t involve airplanes, kites or even hot air balloons.
Her version involves leotards and trapeze bars and floating through the air with the greatest of ease about two stories above ground.
The 1981 graduate from Loyola University School of Dentistry said her introduction to the activity came when her family planned a vacation to a Club Med location that offered trapeze as an activity. She said she thought it would be a treat for her youngest son, now an adult, who was into gymnastics.
But her son balked at the opportunity and she figured his fear of heights, which she shares, had gotten the better of him.
She did gymnastics as a kid so she said she would show him the way.
“Unfortunately my fear of heights kicked in big time and by the time I climbed the ladder and got to the platform I was paralyzed by fear and crying,” Dr. Coffey said. “It was terrible.”
She spent about 20 minutes on the platform shaking and weeping with trepidation and couldn’t force herself to go back down the ladder, even though she was wearing a safety belt.
“I was like, ‘you’re going to have to find a way to get a bathroom up here because I am not leaving this platform,” she said looking back at the incident.
The instructors talked her into grabbing the bar, buckled her knees from behind her and guided her through completing a trick called a knee hang.
“Once I couldn’t see anything I was able to get up and do the trick,” she said.
After Dr. Coffey dropped to the net, and was safely back on terra firma, she tried to get her son to do it.
Her ploy failed, but she did succeed in discovering a new hobby for herself.
“As it turned out he had zero interest in it, but I loved it,” she said. Her fear of heights was still an issue. So she eventually went through hypnosis, which helped her conquer the fear and let her enjoy the sport.
“I do the big tricks like in the real circus so I don’t even take off from the platform,” she explained. “I take off from a real thin bar 5 feet above that, where I’m hanging on the top of the trapeze, so, clearly hypnosis works.”
Every six months after the initial trip Dr. Coffey would go to a Club Med resort that offered trapeze just so she could keep up on the sport. Eventually she learned that a trapeze school had opened up in Chicago and she has been going there ever since.
“What I love about it is that you are so in the moment the whole entire time you are doing it, no matter what your problems are there is nothing else you can think of than doing trapeze,” she said.
Her biggest trick is a double backflip that entails catching another performer and includes 27 movements in seven seconds that “have to be executed with such precision that it is unbelievable,” she said.
A shoulder injury has sidelined her from doing trapeze, but she plans on getting back up and flying in late summer.
“I have injured myself,” the 61-year-old said. “I had two torn ligaments in my knee, I split my head on the bar, but you know what, you fly with the big dogs and stuff is going to happen to you.”
Being grounded hasn’t stopped the LaGrange resident from enjoying herself. Singing and dancing are her two other pursuits.
Dr. Coffey said she started taking ballroom dance lessons because “trapeze makes your upper body really, really strong but you’re not really doing anything with your legs.”
Her husband wasn’t interested in dancing, so she partners with someone at the studio.
“I do it just as a workout, and it is an astoundingly hard workout, I mean you’re breathless at the end of it and you’re sweating, it’s really good,” she said.
There are other benefits, she added, noting that dance is also her “anti-Alzheimer’s program.”
“When you do work or movement that involves math, that helps create new brain pathways so when you have to memorize steps like that it’s a mathematical sort of thing,” she explained. “So, that’s another reason why I started doing it.”
Dr. Coffey also sings as a hobby, doing karaoke as well as participating in a choir.
“I will sing about two-and-a-half hours a day, and I sing often with my patients, where if I’m not singing they’ll say ‘what’s wrong why aren’t you singing,” she said.
She said she was a premed student when a summer job at a dental office led her to change her career path to dentistry.
“A funeral director and dentist, those were the two things that I never wanted to be, but literally the first day that I worked there I went home and said to my mom, ‘that’s it, I want to be a dentist, this is it’,” she said.
Her life and work philosophies revolve around challenges and having fun.
“I ask my patients I have not seen in six months ‘what’s new, what’s fun. And everyone’s like, ‘well nothing’s new and nothing’s really fun,’” she said. “Well, we’re at an age when we have to have some fun because we could drop dead at any second, so fun has to be part of your vocabulary and you need to be choosing that.”
She said she considers dentistry to be a “fun” job with exciting, new and innovative aspects, and that it can be challenging.
“That’s what I say to kids, ‘here’s what’s good about being a dentist: you’re a psychologist because no one wants to come to you and everyone is afraid, you are an artist because you have to figure out what will make this person look the most attractive, and you’re a tool and die maker because everything you do has to be done with such precision work.”
And those three things make the job interesting, she said.
But it is also hard work, she concedes.
“This is a stressful job, emotionally, mentally and physically, and you need to have fun,” she said. “Fun is what reenergizes you to come back here and be the best dentist that you can be. So I think everybody should look for fun, and if they don’t have that in their life, they have to look around and find it.”
Mr. DeRosier is the CDS staff writer.
Photo by Tricia Koning