By Donna Parker
Traci Byrd Cavallini ’94 didn’t need to run away and join the circus — she was born into it.
“My great grandfather started it. It’s a family-owned business that I’ve been doing all my life,” says this mother of two who left for college knowing she’d return to her roots.
Traci loved attending Trinity, where she majored in international business and spent her junior year abroad in Seville, but she says making new friends was the best part.
“For me, what made the experience important were the people I met and the friends I made, but I was 80 percent certain that I’d come back to the family business.”
The family circus is Carson & Barnes — a traditional big-top where the elephants pitch in for set-up duty, hoisting the huge poles that support the main tent (as big as a football field) which is home to the flying trapeze and high wire acts.
“One of the best things about our business is the time spent with family. Parents, sisters, and husbands all travel together,” says Traci.
Traci, her husband Julio and their sons, 5-year-old Brandon and 2-year-old Cameron climb into their RV each spring and hit the road from March through November. Her children’s best friends on the road are the circus performers, and the animals are their constant companions.
“When I was younger,” says Traci, “I performed in the circus. My husband is from a performing family in Peru. Before we married, we did the balancing pole, but I loved riding the elephants.”
“My life has been different than someone who’s gone out and had to utilize their degree. I’ve used everything I learned, but it wasn’t like I went out and applied for a job,” she continues.
And the most difficult part of nomadic life?
“We haven’t gotten to it yet. It’s going to be educating my children,” says Traci, who attended Oklahoma schools in the winter and was tutored on the road in the spring.
Traci wants her boys to make their own decisions about staying in the circus, but that choice seems simple. After all, how many kids are one footstep away from the thrills and adventures of the greatest story ever told!
In addition, Traci is carrying on the family legacy with the establishment of an 88-acre Oklahoma reserve for endangered Asian elephants. Their youngest resident is 2-year-old, 350-pound Obert, named after Traci’s great grandfather. The compound has 29 elephants with one more on the way. It’s a cause close to her heart, and she says if anyone would like to explore the reserve, visit www.endangeredark.com.