What's it like to be known as the "family daredevil" in the Wolfe family? Considering that Huntington Mayor Kim Wolfe's wife, Deborah, competed and won national pageants and often directs performing arts, daughter Mary Ellen Wolfe is only one of several members of the family who have ventured into acting and related show-business professions.
The gifted young woman entered Marshall University at age 15, performed in such musicals as "West Side Story" and "The Wizard of Oz," and after transferring to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, merged her athleticism into trapeze artistry, aerial hoops, and extreme diving.
Mary Ellen Wolfe, then 24, had been performing in Springfield, Missouri, on July 31, 2010, when the experienced diver fell from the platform to the floor. She told her father, "I've broken my foot." Mayor Wolfe at that point was not enormously concerned since Mary Ellen had endured and survived a broken collarbone and other fractures. When his wife Deborah got off the phone with their daughter, she immediately started packing. Deborah told Kim the injury was serious - a crushed heel and bone that was protruding out of her foot. After the Mayor conferred with orthopedic doctors at the Marshall University School of Medicine, Mrs. Wolfe drove 36 hours straight to pick up Mary Ellen, who was in excruciating pain, to bring her back home for surgery.
Mary Ellen Wolfe admitted she did not even know the seriousness of her injury.
"The bones were all out of place and there were some bones sticking out of my foot. No, I didn't know how bad it was until I found out I could possibly get my foot amputated," she said. "That was scary. I tried to stay calm. The operation went really well. The doctor was amazing. I was lucky."
Dr. Zack Tankersley, a world renowned foot and ankle surgeon at the Marshall University School of Medicine, admitted that in some cases these injuries lead to amputations or permanent disabilities. The country's best at this type of reconstructive surgery predicted her recovery time would be indefinite.
"We have faith that she will recover to the fullest extent that she can," Mary Ellen's father explained before the surgery, noting that some shattered bones would be replaced with titanium. The prognosis was limited motion laterally but full motion vertically. The surgical team would cautiously watch for infections and blood clots, which could cost the prima ballerina her right foot.
Prior to surgery, mom took her fearless, adventuresome daughter to Heels at Pullman Square in Huntington. The young woman picked out a pair of high-heeled sandals. Wearing the new shoes would be one of her goals after leaving in Cabell Huntington Hospital where Dr. Tankersley would "put her heel back together with plates and screws."
Shortly after getting out of the hospital, Mary Ellen "ran" a mile around Ritter Park on crutches. Twenty days later in a boot cast, she boarded a plane to Utah. Once back, she competed on October 23, 2010, representing Cottonwood Canyon in the Miss Utah pageant. She wore a rhinestone flip flop on her healing foot.
Although she did not win the pageant, Mary Ellen took two plunges in 2011. Giving thanks to God and Dr. Tankersley, Ms. Wolfe returned to stunt work at the Mayan Adventure Restaurant in Salt Lake City. "The combination of her young age, physical condition, and determination to get back to work probably expedited her recovery," said her dad Kim.
On Aug. 3, 2011, Mary Ellen married her partner, Tyce Nielsen, who had stood with her through the injury and recuperative period. He had proposed just after she returned to diving at the Mayan.
Mary Ellen recalls, "I was in the middle of one of my shows. I was like, uh, should I keep performing my show or stop?" She continued the performance. "Tyce's brother thought I was going to climb up and run away." Instead, she "dropped in the water and he proposed."
Still, the return to work became bittersweet. The 700 seat Mayan Adventure closed Oct 31, 2011, a victim of the economic downturn. The location will likely be absorbed by the movie theater next door.
Mary Ellen and Tyce wasted no time "moving on." She and her husband formed Cirque de la Soul. From a studio, they along with other former Mayan performers stay sharp and offer family-friendly Las Vegas-styled acrobatic and aerial artists for private engagements around Salt Lake City. The specialties include spinning, flipping and free falling from strands of silk or rope.
And the husband and wife team have taken up duo trapeze. Both have January auditions in Las Vegas.
Dad's proud of his new son-in-law, too. "He will take care of my [miracle] baby girl," Kim Wolfe said.