The damp chill of the ice rink is comfortable for UMD alum David “Ike” Isaacson. He puts on his jersey, pads and helmet, and then gets strapped into the most pivotal part of his ensemble: his stilt skates. Once strapped in, he takes the ice from 10 feet high.
“I’m always excited as heck to do it,” Ike said. “I’m sky-high and ready to go. I have a little nerves but I have a pretty good confidence level now.”
Ike, 55, of Mounds View, Minn., graduated from UMD in 1981 with a degree in communication. During his time at school, he loved going to Bulldog hockey games. It was there, in the 1980s, that he saw the inspiration for his act: UMD’s beloved Maroon Loon.
“I was amazed at how he did it,” Ike said. “I never saw anybody else do it through the years, so I decided to give it a try.”
He started his foray into stilt skating five years ago, and Too Tall Ike was born.
But before he could get up, he had to get grounded.
“It was a lot of trial and error,” Ike said. “We made the stilt skates ourselves. We started out with a hockey skate, but that didn’t work. We ended up with a goalie skate and it took a lot of working at the workbench, going out on the ice and going back to the garage. It took five or six times going between the garage and the ice rink before we got it.”
The final product was a mash-up of drywall stilts, wood, a couple of bolts, a goalie skate and 10 feet of air between Ike and the ice. To find his ice legs, Ike started out “dancing” with a 10-foot ladder. After about three weeks, he was ready to try it on his own.
But before he can get up on his own, he needs a little help from his friend, Mike Nentl, 54, of New Hope, Minn. Yes, that’s right: Mike and Ike. The dynamic duo met working together at Kemps, where they’ve both been for 30 years.
“When (Ike) first came to me and asked me if I’d help him do (stilt skating), I said, ‘Absolutely, as long as I’m not the one on the skates,’” Mike said. “When he first started doing it, I thought it was crazy. But it really is a lot of fun.”
Mike’s job is to get Ike all ready to go. He straps him into his stilts — being meticulously careful to check that nothing is amiss — makes sure his uniform is on properly, sends him out on the ice and then marvels at the balancing act.
“He’s been spectacular at mastering his balance,” Mike said. “He’s never fallen during a performance. Knock on wood!”
So what drives Ike’s passion for the ice? It’s certainly not the money, as he said there’s “none in it.” The uncommon nature of the event and the buzz from the crowd are what keep him going.
“I really enjoy the crowd reaction — people’s faces, reactions from kids — it’s really fulfilling,” Ike said. “There’s nobody else doing this right now. It’s unique. I didn’t want it to die.”
Ike said he plans to keep going at his current rate, with about 12 to 20 events per year, for as long as he’s healthy and having fun. One thing he has to do before he hangs up his stilts is skate for a Bulldogs game.
“I want to do it for the ‘Dogs in the worst way,” he said. “It’s a cloud hanging over my head. The Bulldogs are my team. It would be the cream of the crop. It would be number one in my book. I’m just a Bulldog fan, and I hope the people of Duluth would have some interest in seeing it.”
UMD sports marketing coordinator Brian Nystrom said he’s been working with scheduling obligations to find a time for Ike to hit the ice.
“We’re interested; it just hasn’t worked out,” Nystrom said. “There’s still an opportunity for this year. We’ll get through the October games, and then we’ll see.”
No matter which rink Ike glides through, Mike said the best part is always watching the crowd’s excitement.
“I watch him, and it’s really fun to watch the crowd reaction,” Mike said. “You get a lot of people going, ‘Holy cow! What is this?’ He really enjoys making kids laugh and smile. That’s the biggest joy of watching Ike skate.”
BY MAEGGIE LICHT firstname.lastname@example.org,