Past the epiglottis, down the esophagus

By Ruth Davenport

To relieve stress, your average person engages in exercise, meditation or experimental cooking. Megan Evans swallows swords.

Evans is a mother and sculptor, and for the last seven years, just for fun, has engaged in the ancient medieval practice of introducing long, sharp objects to her esophagus.
"I did feel very empowered when I found I could do something that was very uncomfortable and took a lot of willpower to achieve," said Evans. "It takes some meditation so it’s almost a healthy, stress release for me."

On Thurs., Nov. 9, Evans’ dedication to stress relief was rewarded with a segment on the quintessential showcase for the weird and wonderful, the television show Ripley’s Believe it or Not! A filming team from the show made the trek to the Libbon lecture theatre in the University of Calgary Health and Science Centre at the Foothills Hospital to film Evans as she attempted the world’s first swallowing of a fibre-optic rod.

"I was really worried last night," said Ripley’s director Graeme Whifler who directed the segment on Evans. "Megan had just started working with the light stick and she tried to dunk it… and it was hurting her, so I was really afraid we might have something bad happen."

In the moment of truth however, Evans’ feat went down without a hitch. Flanked by X-rays of her torso–sword firmly in place–and a PowerPoint presentation on the intricacies of the human windpipe, Evans swallowed first a 36-inch long metal sword, then the custom-made fibre-optic rod as the audience squealed and the cameras rolled.

"I started out as a youngster," Evans explained after the demonstration. "I would cook Ichiban noodles for my sister and brother and just as long as the noodles were firm enough, drop them in and slide them in and out… lots of laughs."

Evans progressed to "solid foods" after working in a sideshow museum as a props assistant. After the museum was shut down, Evans and her fellow performers began seeking individual acts to perform as a travelling troupe.

"Some of the other acts just weren’t my taste," Evans reminisced. "But as soon as I started using ice-cream spoons and shish kebab skewers, I found it really wasn’t that difficult."

The key to being a good sword swallower, said Evans, is to overcome one’s gag reflex.

"Good posture is helpful… I’ve been told anyone who’s healthy with reasonably good posture could do it, but it does take time and research to be able to switch off that reflex and make sure you do it safely."

"It’s quite common to us now," said Brenda Fox, Evans’ theatrical assistant and travelling companion, also a bug-eater in her own right. "Although, there are many days when I think, I just can’t believe we’re doing this… and I can’t believe we still get newspaper and TV coverage, but I guess this is always going to be something different."

Evans, a native Calgarian, has received recognition of her talents in television productions in New York and Los Angeles, and aspires to receive roles as an extra in movies and music videos.

"I’m a mom, so that’s my full-time job," Evans laughed. "But as a part-time job, it’s great and as long as I get some travel out of it, entertain some people, I’m happy."