Archive for September 9th, 2011

I See Magic in Your Future

Meet Donna Purnell known professionally as Alexanderia the Great “The Queen of Extreme,” one of the few female escape artists in the world. Local and national news agencies have picked up her story dubbing her the “Modern Day Houdini,” “The Female Houdini” and the “Housewife Houdini.” When I spoke to her, Ms. Purnell identified herself simply as Alex. She is also wife to her husband, Bill Purnell, and mother to their three teenage children, Nicole, Kristin and Michael.

The Purnell’s shared love of magic dates back 25 years to high school when Mr. Purnell tried to impress his future wife with some basic rope ties. Her response: “That’s cool, but I can do better.”(1) The two kept their magical hobby a secret from friends and family, fearing what others might think. While raising their three children, Ms. Purnell worked as a day-care provider and teacher.

After losing three jobs during the recession, she considered whether their love of magic could be more than a hobby. In an August 22, 2011 interview with WABC Eyewitness News in New York, Ms. Purnell explained, “At that point after losing three jobs I was really low, my self-esteem and I really needed to find a way to bring me back.”(2)

Alex’s career as a public performer began at the age of 47 in October of 2009 in her hometown of Dedham, Massachusetts when she volunteered to take part in the Worldwide Escape Artists Relay. On the evening of October 24, 2009, in front of a hometown crowd, Alex stood by the side of Dedham High School’s pool while 55 pounds of weight, including steel shackles around her wrists and ankles, multiple chains, nine padlocks and a 15 pound lead belt were strapped to her body. After taking several “breath holds,” Alex jumped into the 12 foot deep pool and sank to the bottom. Alex freed herself from the locks and chains and surfaced in under sixty seconds. Success. This stunt, named the Underwater Leap of Faith, is one of many daring escapes she has since publicly performed.

News of Alex’s stunts has spread rapidly since October of 2009 helped in part by videos of her escapes posted on youtube.com. Usually her stunts involve underwater escapes. She has freed herself from shackles, padlocks, chains, mailbags and recycling barrels while submerged in water or in similarly “airless” circumstances. In her newest stunt, the Underwater Cell, she immerses herself in a 3 foot high plexiglass cell filled with water and must unbind her hands and pick the cell’s lock in order to escape.

Alex also holds a world record for the fastest “extreme” straight jacket escape, which she achieved live on Fox & Friends in autumn of last year. In this stunt, she escaped from a straightjacket as well as 50 feet of chain and 10 padlocks in only 2 minutes and 37 seconds. There is a link to Alex’s record-breaking escape on her webpage.

Currently, Alex performs locally with a group called Lydia’s Carnival Sideshow. Their next performance will be Saturday, September 17th at The Great New England Steampunk Exhibition in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Alex and Bill would ultimately like to take the act on the road. “I would love to have a show and take it places, whether Atlantic City or Vegas.”(3)

Alex prepares for her escapes with free-diving courses, breath-holding trials and underwater weight lifting. In an interview on Greater Boston with Emily Rooney, Bill explains, “The breath training is to keep her safe.”(4) The couple believes that the breath-holding training has already saved Alex’s life once when the plexiglass cell malfunctioned during training for the Underwater Cell. Alex is now able to hold her breath for as long as 3 minutes and 50 seconds in a static, low stress environment.

Alex’s story inspires. She intends it to. “It doesn’t matter your age it doesn’t matter your sex if you are in a situation and you think that that’s not where you want to be, just go for it.”(5)

Her story also exemplifies what this blog is about. “The economy has really thrown people a curve ball. You need to look back at what you do well and are passionate about,” she told me during our interview.

Message: Identify your passion, pursue it, and success will follow.

Alex, best wishes and stay safe!

If you have, or someone you know has, successfully pursued their passion despite this tough economy, please contact me here.

(1) Quote taken from article “Taking the Plunge,” by Taryn Plumb published online by the Boston Globe on February 1, 2011. Full article available at http://articles.boston.com/2011-02-01/lifestyle/29346704_1_deep-breath-buckles-sideshow.

(2) Quote taken from article “Woman makes magical decision after losing jobs,” by WABC Eyewitness News published online on August 22, 2011. Full article available at http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/firstatfour/story?section=firstatfour&id=8320206.

(3) Quote taken from interview on Greater Boston with Emily Rooney, dated February 24, 2011. Video of full interview available at http://www.wgbh.org/programs/Greater-Boston-11/episodes/Feb-24-2011Escape-artist-Alexanderia-the-Great-25355.

(4) Quote taken from interview on Greater Boston with Emily Rooney, dated February 24, 2011. Video of full interview available at http://www.wgbh.org/programs/Greater-Boston-11/episodes/Feb-24-2011Escape-artist-Alexanderia-the-Great-25355.

(5) Quote taken from article “Woman makes magical decision after losing jobs,” by WABC Eyewitness News published online on August 22, 2011. Full article available at http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/firstatfour/story?section=firstatfour&id=8320206.

Pictures provided by Mackay Entertainment, available at http://mackayentertainment.blogspot.com/2011/03/alexanderia-great.html.

Acknowledgements: In addition to my own communications with Alex, information contained in this post was gathered from a series of news reports (both written and verbal) about Alexanderia the Great. These news reports are available at the following links: Fox News Interview dated September 4, 2010 available at http://video.foxnews.com/v/4329692/moms-an-escape-artist; The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric available at http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7357307n; Boston’s Chronicle HD available at http://www.thebostonchannel.com/video/25463812/detail.html; The Boston Globe available at http://articles.boston.com/2011-02-01/lifestyle/29346704_1_deep-breath-buckles-sideshow; Greater Boston with Emily Rooney available at http://www.wgbh.org/programs/Greater-Boston-11/episodes/Feb-24-2011Escape-artist-Alexanderia-the-Great-25355; WABC Eyewitness News available at http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/firstatfour/story?section=firstatfour&id=8320206 and Alexanderia the Great facebook page available at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Alexanderia-the-Great-Escape-Artist-Extraordinaire/175216655822724?sk=wall.

© sourtosweet

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