Colonia — Marjorie Cushing Falanruw’s parents were known as Captain Mars the Human Cannonball and Marjorie Bailey the Sky Lady. While most young girls her age had fathers who went to work every morning and mothers who stayed home and managed the household, Margie’s mother performed aerial ballet on a sway pole 171 feet in the air while her father was a famous high diver and, like his title suggests, a human cannonball.
As circus performers, Frank and Marjorie Cushing were well known in Guam where they settled down and developed a popular carnival grounds after World War II and a career that had taken their family thrill show to California, Hawaii, the Philippines and throughout Asia.
Now 75, Margie pursued a very different career after spending her youth performing on the high wire, trampoline, horseback, trapeze and motorcycle. Earning undergraduate and graduate degrees at universities in California and the South Pacific, she entered the somewhat tamer world of academia, teaching biology and environmental science at the University of Guam.
When she married, Margie and her husband moved to his home island of Yap and she has been here ever since. But she never lost track of her circus roots, stretching a tightrope across her taro patch to provide brief rest periods while writing her doctoral thesis.
In the intervening years, Margie worked for the U.S. Forest Service throughout Micronesia as she raised their three children. Today, she is a great-grandmother and still works in forestry, having compiled a seminal field guide to the trees of Yap in just four months during 2016.
Not one to sit still, Margie was the oldest participant in the 2018 Micro Games, joining Yap’s va’a canoe team to compete with women who are 40 to 50 years younger. She wasn’t planning to participate in the quadrennial event because “the stakes seemed too high. But I had trained for the Yap-Palau Games last year for fun. Then, when we were short on team members for the Micro Games, I became a part of the team.”
Even though the women’s team did not win any medals, the six members improved on their practice times in the sprint races, and, “in the long-distance race, we accomplished our first all women, non-stop 10- mile paddle!” she says.
“The long-distance race was especially tough as it was a hot day and most of the team had already competed in multiple races and even in other sports,” she adds. “I was inspired seeing these young ladies paddling so hard for such a long distance. I’m really proud of our team for having the guts to participate!”
They were tired, sunburned, dehydrated and happy when they crossed the finish line, elated by their accomplishment.
“For me, exercise is a prayer of thanksgiving for health,” she said. Taking up paddling at the suggestion of a friend in Palau many years ago, Margie is a regular participant in the weekly paddling get-togethers that meet after work around sunset on the lagoon in Yap.
“Paddling on Yap is fun,” she said, “because we’re the most heterogeneous group of people that does anything together on this island. We’re male and female, short and tall, dark and light, young and old, different nationalities and all walks of life. It’s not uncommon for us to have speakers of more than three languages together in a canoe paddling for the fun of it. Language is no problem since the commands are just ‘hut, ho’. We’ve had people from all over the world join us from the Pacific and countries like Germany and Romania. We present our guest paddlers with a certificate from the Yap Association of Paddlers, or YAP, with our motto, ‘Life is better when we paddle together.’”
Seven new canoes were built and delivered to Yap for the Micro Games The Micro Games “provided a great chance for young people on Yap to become acquainted with the sport and to see how well teams from other islands perform,” she says. “Especially the women’s team from Palau who won all three gold medals for women’s races. Our Yap men’s team won all three gold medals for men’s races and that was so thrilling.” Margie also noted that a number of young women expressed interest in joining paddling, “so eventually the sport of canoe paddling will grow on Yap,” she smiles. “Va’a canoe paddling is a sport that has no age limit.”