Going Big

Gary "The Amazing Sladek" practices his "Handstand to Heaven" on the top of his New Smyrna Beach home recently.

The “Go-Big” television show on TBS celebrates daring acts as challengers compete for a grand prize.

In contrast to other talent shows, the Go-Big Show focuses on talents on a bigger scale, such as monster trucks, horse riding, alligator trainers and stunt archery. On each episode, performers compete for an opportunity to advance toward the season finale with a grand prize of $100,000 at stake.

New Smyrna Beach resident Gary “The Amazing Sladek” is one of those selected to wow the celebrity judges, who include Snoop Dogg, Rosario Dawson, Jennifer Nettles and Cody Rhodes. Out of 136 initial entrants, he is one of 36 acts selected to perform before the judges between Aug. 14 and 18. The show reached out to him to audition. The show and results won’t be broadcast on television until later in the year.

Billed as “America’s Oldest Daredevil Acrobat” at age 63, “Sladek,” as he likes to be called, is still impressing fans as he traverses the country with his “Death Defying Tower of Chairs.” If he gets past round one with the chair act, round two will consist of his newly named “Handstand to Heaven” where he will perform a handstand off a tall building, such as a hotel. If he makes it to round three, he will combine the chairs and handstand off a similar precarious spot and bill it as “Chairway to Heaven.”

He said it is called “Handstand to Heaven” because “if you attempt the Handstand to Heaven and you make a mistake, hopefully you go straight to heaven and not to hell in a handbasket.”

Mr. Sladek has been performing his unique chair act for 40 years, including a guest appearance on Steve Harvey’s TV Show, “Little Big Shots: Forever Young.” He has also been featured on “America’s Got Talent” and performs regularly for college and National Basketball Association halftime shows.

“Aside from always living the life of a Boy Scout because I am a life scout and being a great son to my mom, being The Amazing Sladek is my driving force because I have one thing in life that I can do that almost nobody else can do,” he said. “It’s not only the skill but it’s entertaining people.”

Plus it helps with his need for people to like him.

“I always want to have fun with people. I love to entertain. When I do my act, the people feel my passion. After my act and they are cheering for me and give me a standing ovation, all I want to do is run into the stands and embrace them and tell them how much I love them for loving me,” he said.

Mr. Sladek added, “I’m in the best shape of my life right now. I take one season at a time. I hope to go until I am 65. Then I can say I worked my entire life while standing on my hands. And that would be a great way to go.”

He was born in North Babylon, N.Y., as Gary Robert Borstelmann, but opted to be known by his mother’s maiden name of Sladek. His family includes his brother, James, aka “Broadway Jim,” who has performed on Broadway for more than 20 years. His father, Robert, died in 2017, but Mr. Sladek said “his spirit lives on and I bring him out on center court with me every show now.” His mother, Grace, lives with him in New Smyrna Beach. He has a daughter Kerri Grace Borstelmann, who is volunteering to help Syrian refugees in Greece. He also has two other siblings, Jan and Steven.

Mr. Sladek was the New York State gymnastics champion in 1976. After two years in college, he joined the Royal Hannaford Circus. Soon he ventured into a solo act with then wife, Terri Lauria. Now he single-handedly takes delight in seeing jaws drop as he scales six chairs and a table 25 feet into the air with no safety equipment to do a handstand on top of it all. There are other chair acts, but his chairs do not lock into each other, each has to be independently balanced.

He works out every day for one intense hour to improve flexibility, strength and power.

“Flexibility is the key to longevity” he said. “Everything in this workout are all the tools that I need to perform the Tower of Chairs.”

He is 5-feet, 8-inches tall at a fit 177 pounds.

Mr. Sladek travels by car following the pro basketball schedule. He will not fly his equipment anywhere for fear of it being damaged in transit. So, he often drives hundreds of miles a day to reach a destination.

“In my act, there are no gimmicks, no safeties,” he said. “If I fall, I will be a cripple. I am doing something that nobody else can do. Mine is an old school daredevil act.”

Mr. Sladek also has performed a three-man trampoline act, bareback horseback riding act, wall of death and 75-foot-high breaking sway pole act. He has performed in 48 states and several countries. His 100 costume combinations were created by Joanne Wilson, who lives in Gibsonton.

Mr. Sladek also is known for his charity work, doing benefit performances for Emory L. Bennett Veterans Nursing Home in Daytona Beach, The Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County and New Hope for Kids in Maitland.

Personal Assistant Patricia Murphy went to school with Jim Borstelmann and knows the whole family.

“I’ve known the Borstelmann family since I was five years old” Ms. Murphy said. “Once I got into high school and (Gary) graduated, I never saw him again until 35 years later. I found out on Facebook from the North Babylon group that he was going to be performing in Gibtown (and) donating his performance. I brought my son and some friends and we went to the circus and the rest is history.

“Gary really is amazing in so many ways,” she said. “He is the most generous person. Their family is so close and they always made me feel like family. Gary’s got such a good heart. He really does. You can’t help but love him.”

For more information, visit amazingsladek.com.

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