A blazing performance

Professional firebreather heats things up at Liberty home football games

Minutes before kickoff at Williams Stadium, Phoenix Aguilar becomes anxious. From the locker room where he prepares, he said he can hear the noise from the student section outside. From the threshold of the tunnel, it becomes hard to shake the nerves moments before he makes his entrance.

flames — Phoenix Aguilar taught himself how to breathe fire. Photo credit: MIchela Diddle

flames — Phoenix Aguilar taught himself how to breathe fire. Photo credit: MIchela Diddle

“I love performing at Liberty,” Aguilar said. “And all because of the massive fan base. It’s awesome seeing so many people rallying for their team, and you can really feel the overwhelming energy in the stadium. It gets me excited.”

Aguilar, a professional fire-breather from Raleigh, North Carolina, has performed at every Liberty home football game this year. He regularly showcases his skillset in a stunt preceding the players’ entrance where he sprints to the center of Williams Stadium while spinning a lighted torch to a dramatic composition played in the background.

As the players begin their entrance onto the field, Aguilar spills ultra-pure lamp oil into his mouth and spews it out in a mist onto the torch, combusting the small flame into an explosive streak of fire. It is only when the crowd’s cheers reach their peak when he steps off the platform.

“We like to say ‘the more fire the better’ at our athletic events,” Liberty Director of Fan Experience and Promotions Brett Metcalf said. “I don’t think there are many things that grab people’s attention like someone who has the ability to play with fire like (Phoenix).”

Liberty began featuring a fire-breather at football games since the beginning of the 2014 season, where Metcalf said Associate Athletics Director Mike Minyard came up with the idea after finding a former student, who acted as both the “Red Jacket Guy” and the fire-breather for Liberty football games. This is Liberty’s first year with Aguilar as the fire-breather.

For Aguilar, he said that he began fire breathing in 2008 after attending the Burning Man Conference in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, an annual gathering promoting artistic self-expression. After he was inspired at the event, Aguilar began teaching himself how to breathe fire.

TRICKS — Phoenix Aguilar hopes to add to his performance by learning how to juggle torches of fire. Photo credit: Michela Diddle

TRICKS — Phoenix Aguilar hopes to add to his performance by learning how to juggle torches of fire. Photo credit: Michela Diddle

“When I first got interested in fire-breathing, I looked on the Internet and did some research concerning the dangers of it, and found a lot of horror stories of people teaching themselves,” Aguilar said.

“But once I decided I wanted to learn it anyway, it was only a matter of learning the technique.”

Through teaching himself how to “breathe fire,” Aguilar said that he faced difficulties in the beginning stages. He said that learning how to control the fire in the air once he began creating large flames became increasingly difficult.

“Beginners to fire-breathing aren’t usually familiar with the blowback effect that large flames have,” Aguilar said. “The flame will quickly come back to your face once you blow on the torch, so it’s initially hard to learn how to prevent catching yourself on fire.”

Even after years of practicing, Aguilar said that there is always a risk with fire breathing. Aside from being close to an open flame, Aguilar said that ingesting the fuel, whether it be lamp oil or kerosene, can become a problem.

He specifically mentioned cases of mouth cancer and of one friend who suffers from chemical pneumonia after years of fire breathing.

As far as his own injuries, Aguilar said the worst he has experienced throughout his career as a fire-breather is a few minor burns. Although he said he is still worried about poisoning from consumption of fuel and of the blowback of the flame, his love for the art of fire breathing makes him want to keep doing it.

“There really is a beauty between the connection of man and fire,” Aguilar said. “Fire is such a primal element, and fire-breathing is such a raw form of expression. It’s become an exciting passion of mine.”

Beyond fire breathing, Aguilar said he has begun to work on expanding his skillset. He hopes to soon get into more circus arts, including juggling torches of fire.

YOUNG is a feature reporter.

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