Kathryn Howard ran off and joined the circus.
With her college gymnastics eligibility exhausted, the All-American performer was finishing her advertising degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln when she got a call from Cirque du Soleil, the Canada-based circus company with shows on six continents.
The company had an opening in Macau, and two weeks later, Howard was in China training for her new role.
"It is very difficult to get in the company," she said. "And when you get an offer, you should take it."
Howard moved her classes online, applied for a visa and hopped on a plane to the former Portuguese colony that became part of China in 1999 but remains largely self-governing.
"It all happened so fast, I didn't really have time to think," she said.
Now about a year into her circus career, Howard has settled into her new life. The language barrier has been rough, she said. Few people in Macau speak English, and she can't converse in Cantonese.
The transition from college gymnastics has also been a challenge. There's more of an emphasis on acting and dancing, she said, and the competitive aspect of Division I sports has been replaced by camaraderie with fellow performers.
While Howard, 22, is on stage for much of the 90-minute show, her main act comes when she flips off two teeter boards and lands on the ground.
Her colleagues come from several continents. She works closely with several Russians, and the show also features artists from Brazil, Britain, Canada, France and Germany.
The diversity makes for an interesting workplace.
"When you first arrive and you're in that environment, it's really interesting because of the culture differences," she said.
Howard's college coach isn't surprised his all-conference performer has gone on to circus success. Dan Kendig took his squad to a Cirque performance before the national championships in Florida two years ago.
Howard was enthralled with the performance and pledged to audition for the company. The casting directors were impressed and invited her to a training camp in Montreal. They offered her the job after she returned to UNL.
Two other former Huskers perform with Cirque in Las Vegas. For gymnasts, Kendig said, the circus is a way to make a living in the sport.
"We're a sport where there's not a pro gymnastics league," he said. "For those who have not exhausted their performance ability, it's a way to stay connected with gymnastics."
Howard just signed a contract that will keep her in Macau for the next 19 months. She eventually wants to finish her degree, but for now she's enjoying the nightly demands of a performance.
"I still get nervous in the show because our theater seats 1,800 people," she said. "It's our job, it's not a competition."