Tuesday, August 9, 2022
Ashley McCauley, right, hugs her brother, Jordan Wolf, after he complete 10 steps on stilts, unassisted, at 54 feet, 1 inch, to break the world record. McCauley, a Chippewa Valley Technical College graduate, finished the feat less than an hour before Wolf.
When Ashley McCauley decided to attend Chippewa Valley Technical College for dental hygiene, she had heard all the pros of the field – it offers good work/life balance, it is a good career choice, it provides good money. But that wasn’t the hook for McCauley.
“That wasn’t what interested me,” she said from her office in Medford. “It was that I could still do stilt walking on the weekends.”
That’s right, stilt walking.
McCauley (nee Wolf) was 3 when her father “Steady” Eddy Wolf propped her up on stilts for the first time. This year, on June 4, with stilts measuring 54 feet, 1 inch, McCauley and her brother Jordan Wolf broke the previous record set in 2006 by Saimaiti Yiming of China.
The 5-foot, 1-inch CVTC grad wanted to bring the world record back to the family.
Eddy first had the Guinness World Record for tallest stilt walking in 1978. After that, he broke his own record four times. Her other brothers, Travis and Tony Wolf, stilt walk as well.
“I ultimately thought every family just did this,” McCauley said with a laugh.
Her father, Eddy, had a goal to retire young. As a side hustle to make a little money, he began stilt walking, she said.
“Those were our family trips,” McCauley said. “We would travel together, do a parade on Sunday, and he would make it this cool family thing. We would pay for the weekend by stilt walking.”
She said her dad instilled in his children that you pay your bills with the day-to-day job, and then you get to have fun money from stilt walking.
“The more you save for things, the better off you are,” she said.
With that work ethic, McCauley was able to pay for her first car and her education at CVTC.
Although one of the draws to dental hygienics was the schedule, it wasn’t the only draw for McCauley.
“I love to make people smile and laugh,” she said. “When you’re putting on a show every weekend, you might see people who don’t have such great smiles. I wanted to get into dentistry to help make great smiles.”
McCauley said when kids have a great dental hygienist or doctor, it makes all the difference.
“That’s the goal, to have this great experience,” she said. “It’s great to be able to be a part of that.”
Now, with her bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene and her master’s degree in organizational change, she is the director of operations for First Impressions Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics in Wausau.
She credits the education at CVTC for her love of the profession.
Pam Entorf, CVTC program director for the dental hygiene and dental assisting programs, not only remembers McCauley, but the women still catch up with each other from time to time.
Entorf said McCauley was an excellent student.
“She was our class president and actively involved in the professional side of dental hygiene. It’s fun to watch her career path,” Entorf said. “When she was doing the (stilt walking) world record, it was fun watching the whole thing.”
According to many online sources, using stilts dates back to the 6th century B.C. French shepherds were also known to use stilts to watch their flocks from afar.
For most of McCauley’s life, stilt walking was a joy for her and a source of entertainment for others. But five years ago, when her aunt died of cancer, she began devising a plan to use her stilts in a different way. She determined she wanted to break the record and raise money for cancer patients to honor her aunt. But at that time, the timing wasn’t right.
In 2021, McCauley and brother Jordan Wolf made a plan. He had an application on file with Guinness to vie for the world record, but they trained together at the gym starting in October and then in an empty silo on farmland owned by her brothers from January through May.
Each stilt weighed 96 pounds, and they had to take ten steps unassisted to break the record.
“I didn’t know if I could even pick them up,” McCauley said of the long, heavy stilts. “It was the weight that was the hardest part.”
After practicing five months of walking in the silo, which acts as a safety net in the event of a fall – a crane was hired to pull the stilts from the silo. The course was set up at the Marshfield Fairgrounds Park, home of the Central Wisconsin State Fair. It consisted of two cranes, which held two cables taunt in case McCauley or Jordan needed to steady themselves and start over. If they touched the cables during their ten steps, they had to start over.
McCauley nailed her ten steps in 15 minutes, and her brother, with the wind picking up, did it in about 30 minutes, but time has no bearing on the record. Once Jordan’s accomplishment has been verified, his name will appear as the record breaker because only one person can break the record at a time.
McCauley is proud of her brother and happy he is bringing the family name back to the record book. And she’s equally thankful that people donated to her cause. She was able to raise $10,000 in her aunt’s honor for families receiving cancer care at Marshfield Clinic.
But what about the fear of falling? Isn’t she afraid she’ll take one wrong step?
She said the older her family members get, the more they are afraid of heights. Her father and oldest brother are weary of heights now. But McCauley is still living by the family motto.
“Balance over fear, that’s what we call it,” McCauley said. “I don’t recommend doing it at age 37. I do recommend doing it at age 16. But if I say I’m going to do something, I do it. And then I put my whole heart into it.”
SIDEBAR: Growing UP on stilts
Ashley McCauley remembers the wood stilts her father built her and her siblings when they were little. All of the grandkids have them now, too.
“I still have the stilts that I used in 1998,” she said.
Her oldest brother Travis Wolf took his second steps on stilts when he was 11 months old. They were six inches tall. Now those stilts are in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum.
“It has literally been my whole life,” McCauley said. “I remember thinking as a kid I was so cool because I would put them on to reach the light switch. It’s still a family tradition to use them to put the star on the tree.”
Although it looks like fun and games, falling is a threat. McCauley said learning how to fall is the key.
“One of our big things growing up is that Dad would teach us how to fall,” she said. “We learned to fall forward and land on your support system. It works in life, too. Learn to fall, learn to fail, and it’s ok as long as you get up and keep going.”
McCauley fell in a parade in front of people when she was six years old. My uncle ran out and picked me up and said, ‘You have to finish’ and I finished the parade.”
She said there’s nothing like getting up, dusting off and finishing the parade with confidence and having people cheer.
Stilt walking is something that is in her blood and that of her children and all of her brothers’ children. In total, there are 15 grandchildren who stilt walk.
“I think my dad’s heart beats out of his chest,” McCauley said. “He’s just the proudest guy.
“It’s kind of dying art. To have a family that has continued the legacy is pretty unique.”
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