We’ve found Packers fans most everywhere around the world - holding surfboards on the beaches in Hawaii and posing in front of the pyramids in Egypt. But few fans may be able to top Jon Cole, a loyal fan of the green and gold living in China and working as a human cannonball.
Cole grew up in Peru, Ind., known as “The Circus Capital of the World,” where instead of playing sports, most kids try out for the amateur circus. Cole started at five years old and spent the next 15 summers practicing circus stunts, working his way up to the flying trapeze.
Because Cole had family from Wisconsin, he also grew up loving the Packers, and from second grade on Cole joined his grandfather, dad, uncle and brother on annual trips to Green Bay during football season.
“My grandfather came down to Indiana, but you can’t take the Packers out of his heart,” he said. “When I was finally old enough to make the trip, it happened to be Brett Favre’s first start in the NFL. There’s nothing quite like the family tradition of going to experience Lambeau Field and all of the surroundings every year.”
Cole performed in the circus until he was 21, and also went to Indiana Wesleyan University and graduated with a teaching degree. After graduation, Cole set out on a year-long tour with a flying trapeze troupe that even included a couple of months in Portugal. Then Cole settled down, got a “real job” as a teacher, and married his girlfriend, Jenny - also a schoolteacher from Peru with a background in the circus.
Then Cole ran into a friend who had performed as a human cannonball for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for 12 years. Cole discovered his friend had a few extra cannons designed for launching humans, so just like most of us would do, Cole climbed into one and had his friend light the fuse. Cole kept launching himself from the cannon, kept moving the 30 x 20-foot aircushion farther back and, more importantly, he kept landing on it. Turned out Cole was pretty good at being shot from a cannon.
“I had never done anything with a cannon act before, as they are pretty rare to find,” Cole said. “I think there are around eight in the world. My circus background and body control made it much easier to get the hang of, but nothing really prepares you for the feeling of flying free through the air.”
One day an agent called from the Chimelong International Circus in Guangzhou, China. They were looking for a human cannonball act, so Cole and his family went to China in June of 2011 and have been there since. He’s the first of his kind in China, and the Chimelong is the largest non-touring circus in the world. He performs in front of 10,000 people at a time, is featured on billboards and even does commercials - though he prefers to downplay his fame.
Cole’s contract with Chimelong expires in February, and he and Jenny have decided to return to Indiana. It will be easier to follow the Packers from there, though Cole said he reads about the team daily online and even goes to a local sports bar – owned by a Canadian couple – with another Packers fan to watch the games. Because of the time difference, the bar’s owner keeps the place open for Cole and his Packer buddy and they watch the games at 1 a.m. and 4 a.m.
“I have a Clay Matthews and Aaron Rodgers jersey, and my wife has a Greg Jennings jersey,” Cole said. “My two kids have Rodgers jerseys as well.”
Cole’s son is named Jaxon Tyler-Favre Cole - his loyalty toward the Packers runs deep.
“Sadly, I missed the family trip to Lambeau Field in 2011 and 2012 due to my contract here in China, but I will see the Packers again in 2013,” he said. “I can’t wait.”