Meet the strongest mom in the world

Talk about a strong woman.

One of the more dazzling feats of flexibility and strength at this year’s Big Apple Circus is a six-minute routine called Duo Fusion. Not only are the two acrobats, Ihosvanys Perez and Virginia Tuells, husband and wife, but it’s the wife who does the heavy lifting — balancing her 152-pound husband above her head. While she’s wearing two-inch heels, no less.

And she’s doing it just 10 months after the birth of their daughter, Sofia.

In the circus’ VIP tent in Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park, as her husband bounced around with the baby in his arms, Tuells, 38, was a surprisingly petite presence. Nevertheless, her sequined two-piece revealed a toned midriff and rock-hard limbs.

“I came back to work three months after having Sofia,” she says, proudly.


She stopped performing six weeks into her pregnancy, but didn’t take that as an invitation to kick up her feet. While her doctor insisted she not try any new stunts, he encouraged her to stay active, and she continued her typical workouts, which include a variety of calisthenic exercises such as pushups, pullups, planks, squats and crunches, plus light cardio and elastic band resistance training.

“You know your limits,” he told her.

Even so, she says, after giving birth, she regained her pre-pregnancy strength surprisingly quickly.

“Everything was perfect,” she says. “If you have a good pregnancy, eat healthy, stay active, there is no way that you cannot come back and do whatever you love.”

And there was no question, she says, that having a baby would end her career.

She grew up in Argentina, an athletic girl who shone in gymnastics. She saw a circus for the first time when she was 18, when one performed in a park in her hometown — and suddenly knew what she wanted to do, although her friends didn’t take it seriously.

“Poor girl,” she jokes, echoing them.

But her family was supportive, and not long after, she was performing on aerial silks, flipping and twirling in the air at a circus in Mexico City. It was there, in 2003, that she met Perez, now 39, a Cuban-born gymnast.

Soon the two were “practicing and playing,” as she calls it: fusing their acts together in a way that combined their mutual passion for acrobatics, music and dance. Their act began traditionally — with him balancing her — until Perez noticed something: “I saw Virginia has a lot of strength,” he says. Soon Tuells was lifting him, though the couple takes turns balancing one another.

‘If you have a good pregnancy, eat healthy, stay active, there is no way that you cannot come back and do whatever you love.’

It took six to eight months of near-constant practicing to nail down the routine they continue to perform today: Part dance, part feat of strength, it features Perez, upside down and in a handstand, atop his wife’s shoulders as she stands tall.

As formidable as they look onstage, Tuells says, she still gets nervous, but that’s a good thing. “When you trust too much … you fall.”

One thing she did trust was that they’d resume their act after Sofia’s arrival. Tuells swiftly returned to her signature handstands and inversions.

Ironically, the exercise this iron woman avoided, before and after pregnancy, is pumping iron: The more muscular she is, she says, the heavier she’ll be, making it harder for Perez to lift her.

Child care is another balancing act — one the couple performs without a nanny. Like the other performers, they currently live in a trailer outside Lincoln Center, and the only time they’re not with Sofia is when they’re in the ring. And when they are, their fellow performers and circus crew step in.

“There’s always someone that can help you with the baby,” Tuells says. “The circus is a family.”

Luckily, Sofia’s an affable little girl. “She’s a quiet baby, so far,” says Tuells, who breast-fed her even after returning to work.

When Sofia’s not napping, her proud parents say she also enjoys watching them “fly” from her prime seat (in a stroller behind the curtain), watching all the other acts practice under the bright lights, and traveling from city to city.

“We enjoy together every place [we visit],” says Perez. “Twenty-four hours [a day], 365 days a year.”

Both parents can’t envision a life on the road without the little one. “I don’t want to push her [into] the circus life,” says Perez. “But in my heart I want to bring her!”

“She’s going to do whatever she wants to do, and what she has the passion to do,” adds Tuells. “Just like what happened with us.”

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