For most people, lying prone on the floor with your feet curled over your head warrants a trip to the hospital and some sort of surgical untangling machine. But for teenage contortionist Emerald Gordon Wulf, it’s just another Sunday afternoon. Wulf is a rare talent, able to bend her body in ways she says only a few people in the world can. Case in point: During a recent photo shoot with San Diego Magazine, Wulf went into a triple fold. Lying on her stomach, she bent her back so that her knees were touching the ground on either side of her head, her feet tucked under her armpits. It’s awe-inspiring stuff.
Wulf first discovered her impressive flexibility at age 6 while practicing gymnastics, when her legs naturally fell behind her into a backbend after she struggled to hold a handstand. “Everyone thought I was weak … myself included, because that’s what I was told,” she says.
“This was something she was embarrassed about,” recalls her mother, Chelsea Gordon. “It made her a target to the other kids, and she was bullied for it.”
Regardless of the sea of straight handstands surrounding her, after she discovered contortion, Wulf’s world turned upside down… literally.
“I realized that contortion is actually what my body is meant for,” she says.
Whether she’s tucking her ankles beneath her chin or twisting into a pretzel, Wulf spends multiple hours per day perfecting her knack for bending into bizarre positions—and has become a world-traveling performer as a result. At age 10, Wulf appeared on kids’ talent TV shows Little Big Shots Australia and Little Big Shots Vietnam and at various festivals around the US. A few years later, in 2020, she was asked to audition on one of the largest stages in the country: America’s Got Talent. She not only popped out of a cupboard barely large enough to fit a rice cooker, but also impressed the judges by picking up a necklace with her mouth in a hands-free backbend and shooting a blow dart through a tube she held in her toes… while still in a backbend.
Although she received a standing ovation and four resounding yeses from the judges, only two days later, Covid shut down the studio and Wulf was unable to continue with the competition. But the setback did not stop her from pursuing her goals.
In the same year, Wulf acted as Julian Hilliard’s stunt double in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021), where she used her contortion skills to portray a possessed child. Since The Conjuring is not exactly most 14-year-olds’ go-to comfort film, Chelsea Gordon found a creative, PG way to help Wulf practice being possessed by the devil. “I had my friend put together a video of possession sequences and put the Hannah Montana soundtrack over it so it wouldn’t be scary to watch,” Gordon explains.
But Wulf soon decided that being the bad guy isn’t all that bad. “That was how I realized I wanted to be in movies,” she says. “And I want to be the villain because they’re the best. They’re just compelling!”
Now 17 years old, Wulf hopes to keep traveling the world and acting in movies as a contortionist stunt double. She continues to perform in shows around the US, including two recent appearances in Los Angeles.
But you don’t have to head to a live show to see Wulf shoot arrows with her feet—her mom maintains her popular TikTok and Instagram accounts, sharing videos of Wulf tying herself in knots (complete with extravagant costumes, from Catwoman to Slenderman) with more than two million followers. You can also catch her on the cover of the January 2024 issue of San Diego Magazine.
While her fame may seem to come from natural talent and ability, it is also largely rooted in Wulf’s tenacity, hard work, and passion, as evidenced by her daily practice. “Being a contortionist is really special to me,” she says. “It’s been a way for me to take my biggest weakness and turn it into something I’m really proud of.”