High heels may throw many of us off balance, but that’s certainly not the case for one Chester, Vermont woman.
Ariana Wunderle (USA) has mastered walking in high heels and walked 194.983 m (639 ft 7 in) across a 19-foot-long tightrope while wearing them, achieving the farthest tightrope walk in high heels.
On 16 May 2022, Ariana walked back and forth across a six-foot-high tightrope 52 times in four-inch high heels, stomping the previous record of just four times.
Before claiming the title, her previous record was five passes on that same tightrope.
Going into her record-breaking walk, her biggest goal was to complete at least six passes, although she was hoping for eight, and perhaps 10 if she was really able to push herself.
“One day before I broke the world record, I thought I would just barely beat the record of 50 feet, if I was lucky,” said Ariana.
I never could have dreamed of accomplishing what I did!
The former circus performer attempted the feat in her school’s gymnasium as part of a high school senior project before graduation.
“I had no idea what to do for my senior project, but my parents asked me if I wanted to try to break the Guinness World Records title for it,” said Ariana.
“At the time, I had said that I didn’t want to do it because I was not confident with who I was.”
Growing up, Ariana was known as the “circus kid,” although her classmates never really understood what she did.
Ariana grew up in a circus-performing family and was a part of Circus Smirkus between the ages of two and 18.
She says living life as a circus-performing child was difficult for her.
“Being away from my hometown during the summers (because I would tour with the circus), everyone in school would bond with each other while I was not there,” said Ariana.
“When I would come back for the next school year, I would realize that my whole friend group had left me.
I really struggled in life with feeling like I belonged and the last thing I wanted to do was attempt to break a world record and for everyone to laugh at me. Not because I would fail, but because I would be who I was.
During a game of two truths and a lie with her field hockey team one day, her mindset suddenly began to shift.
One of her truths was that she had unofficially broken a world record.
When her team realized she was telling the truth, she suddenly felt noticed.
“I was always an outsider on my field hockey team, and I was never the person my teammates would choose to hang out with,” said Ariana.
“However, for those few seconds in two truths and a lie, I didn’t feel as lonely. It was at that moment when I decided to try to break the world record.”
Suddenly, Ariana felt inspired to attempt the record in an effort to feel less lonely and to finally prove to her classmates that she was not the joke she felt she was made out to be.
What began as an attempt to be well-liked by others, finished with a lesson in self-love.
“The journey had started in my attempt to finally be liked by my classmates and finally be noticed by boys,” said Ariana.
However, as I stood on that platform, I was ready to walk solely to prove to myself that I am stronger than I’ve ever given myself credit for.
Ariana says she had always compared herself to others, which deeply affected her mental health.
“When I stood on that platform, I realized that none of their opinions mattered when it came to my life,” she said.
“I didn’t want to break the world record for anyone but myself. I wanted to finally choose myself and I truly believe that is why I walked way longer on that wire than I ever thought was possible for myself.”
Ariana first discovered her ability to walk on a tightrope when she was seven years old.
“Growing up in the circus, I always followed everyone else’s lead,” she said.
“I was a clown because my dad was a clown, I became an aerialist because my sister did aerials.”
But the summer she turned seven, Ariana walked up to Circus Smirkus’s wire tent and asked the tightrope coach to teach her how to become a wire walker.
Tightrope walking was the one circus discipline that Ariana chose because she felt like she could become her own person rather than follow in the footsteps of others.
“For once in my life, I finally felt I had the chance to grow into my own person,” she said.
Ever since the day I walked up to the wire tent, the wire and I have had a special bond.
In 2018, she saw someone else walk the wire in high heels and realized she could learn to do that as well.
Once she had mastered the art, her father introduced her to the previous Guinness World Records holder for the feat.
“My dad runs his own circus company called Wunderle’s Big Top Adventures,” said Ariana.
“During one of his jobs, a kid came up to him and showed my dad the Guinness World Records title holder for the farthest tightrope walk in high heels.”
That very night, Ariana attempted the record in high heels on her low wire.
Although she successfully beat the record, there were guidelines in place she had to follow in order to make it official.
Ariana focused on training for a month by holding herself accountable and tracking her daily progress.
“We have a studio on my parents’ property, and this is where my low wire was set up and where I would practise each night,” she said.
Because I knew I had very limited time to practise on a high wire, I needed to do everything I could to mentally prepare myself on my low wire for how it would feel on the high wire.
To do this, she placed obstacles around and underneath her low tightrope so that it would feel similar to the high wire and so she wouldn’t have thoughts of falling.
Although she felt confident that she had the skills to be able to beat the record, she felt that she had to find the mental strength to attempt such a feat.
“When I was motivated by doing it for other people, I wasn’t as successful,” she said.
“But when I was motivated for myself, I found myself lost in a comfortable trance as I walked the wire.”
Ariana’s longest pass on the wire during her month-long training was 30 passes, which would have equated to 15 passes on the high tightrope.
“Although I had the stamina to walk 15 passes on the high wire, when you add in the mental game of being up high, it changes the whole game. This is why going into my record attempt, 10 passes were like my biggest dream for that day,” she said.
“So, to walk 52 passes for 55 minutes is something I will forever be proud of myself for! Never ever did I see that coming!”
Although Ariana has never had anything dangerous happen to her while tightrope walking in high heels, she has had her fair share of scrapes and bruises and has even had the heel of her high heel slip off the tightrope!
However, she says there are some difficult parts of tightrope walking in high heels including being in the right mindset, having strong enough ankles, and having strong shoulders.
“Around my eighth or tenth pass out of my 52 passes, my shoulders started burning,” said Ariana.
Your shoulders are how you balance on the wire, and you are constantly making micro corrections the whole time you are out on the wire.
In fact, during her attempt, she decided to stop after her 52nd pass because she no longer felt in control of her ankle movements.
“When my ankles got to a point where I no longer felt in control of their movements, I realized that this walk had now just turned dangerous,” she said.
“I did not want this feat to end in an injury and so by listening to my body and realizing what is safe to fight through and what is unsafe, I knew when I needed to come off the wire.”
For the moment, Ariana is satisfied with her record title and does not have any immediate plans to attempt any others.
“I went into this feat with one goal: to prove to myself that I am not worthless. That I have strength within myself. And I am not that weak fool that others have manipulated me into believing that I am,” she said.
“By walking as far as I did and accomplishing more than I ever thought was possible, I made myself proud and after everything I have struggled with, the one thing I need to hold onto is love for myself.
For me, it was less about breaking the world record and more about learning who that strong, determined, feisty little girl inside of me is.
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