Before Myakka City’s Cyndel Flores was about to perform on “America’s Got Talent: Extreme,” it began to rain.
Her already dangerous act of climbing up a more than 60-foot breakaway sway pole and doing acrobatic tricks became increasingly difficult.
“When it started raining, it definitely made me nervous," Flores said. "But I also was disappointed because I thought, ‘I have one more thing against me and I’m not going to be able to make it up the pole.' I thought, ‘I’m not going to be able to do it. I came this far, I did all this and I’m not even going to be able to make it up.’”
Climbing up the pole, she slipped, causing the audience and judges to gasp.
“When one little slip like that happens, it’s terrifying because why?” Flores said. “Was I not paying attention enough? Is there humidity in the air? Is the pole dusty or just wet? Everything starts rushing in my head. I could have fallen. After that, my grip was a little tighter.”
But she persisted.
Flores made it to the top of the sway pole. She did a few acrobatic tricks, dazzling the crowd. She put herself upside down on the sway pole before the pole dropped, which panicked the audience.
But it was part of her act.
Flores amazed the judges so much, Travis Pastrana, a professional motorsports competitor and stunt performer, used his only golden buzzer to advance Flores straight to the live show March 14.
Flores was eliminated as the top four were selected in the competition. The winner was Alfreda Silva's Cage Riders.
“(Pastrana) is the man when anyone in our industry thinks of extreme or dangerous acts or stunts,” Flores said.
Nikki Bella, a judge, said Flores made her feel a variety of emotions from excited to thrilled to nervous and more. Bella told Flores she was fearless.
Simon Cowell, a longtime judge of “America’s Got Talent” told Flores he was jealous he couldn’t push the golden buzzer for her act.
“The fact Simon was jealous because he couldn’t give it to me meant so much because he’s seen everything,” Flores said. “The man has been all over. He has seen all the different acts around the world. To impress him and for him to say he’s jealous was crazy.”
Although most people see performing on a breakaway sway pole as a dangerous act, Flores sees it as normal. She grew up watching her mother, Arcelia Flores, perform on the sway pole.
“It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that’s not normal,” Flores said. “As cool as I think the act is, I also grew up seeing it. My mom is doing it. The same mom that makes me breakfast every morning. The same mom that switches my laundry into the dryer when I forget that it's been in the washer for a long time.”
Flores was 15 when she told her parents she wanted to try the sway pole. Her parents told her she needed to wait a few more years so she would be more mature and understand that every time she went on the sway pole, she was risking her life.
Because the sway pole is so dangerous, Flores had to make her way up the sway pole in phases.
The first time she tried climbing the sway pole, she only made it up 15 feet. She was shaking and kept looking down, but her mom reassured her she could come down and try again the next day.
Little by little, Flores made her way higher and higher on the pole.
“When I got to the final part where the ladder stops and you have to freehand climb the rest of the way, for a couple of days I would just sit at the middle spot and hang out there,” Flores said. “Mom was like just take it and feel how the pole moves because up there, you’re moving with the sway pole. If the sway pole says you’re going to sway to the right, that’s where you’re going. There’s no fighting it.”
At the age of 17, Flores finally made it to the top of the sway pole where she had her “Mulan moment.” In Disney’s “Mulan,” there is a moment in the movie where the main character, Mulan, beats the odds to climb to the top of a wooden pole and looks down in satisfaction at the people below her, and then looks at the scenery around her.
“I saw everything,” Flores said about being at the top of the sway pole. “I saw my neighbor’s house. I could see everything, and it was definitely my 'Mulan' moment. I thought that was so cool.”
Now at 24 years old, Flores continues to overcome her fear of heights to perform on the breakaway sway pole. Over the years she learned taking off her glasses helps her get over her fear.
“When I say I have bad eyesight, I mean I can’t see 5 feet in front of me,” Flores said. “There’s so many pictures of me out there squinting because I can’t see. I think a lot of it is being able to take my glasses or my contacts off and be in the moment because I know what I’m doing. I don’t want any outside little things to break my concentration. I'll just go for it.”