NIAGARA FALLS: Nik Wallenda can’t visit a new place without envisioning a wire strung high above his head, linking buildings, landmarks and nations. Even as a six-year-old at Niagara Falls with his parents, he pictured walking a tightrope over the raging whitewater marvel.
Now 33, Wallenda is ready to live out that childhood fantasy when he attempts on Friday to become the first person ever to walk a tightrope directly over the brink of Niagara Falls.
“It’s just natural,” Wallenda, a seventh-generation member of the famed Flying Wallendas, explained. “When I drive into a city, I’m always thinking, ‘it would be cool to do a walk there’. It’s just the way I think and always have.”
Since first stepping on a wire when he was two, Wallenda, who lives in Sarasota, Florida, has earned six Guinness records. His family has been performing for audiences at circus-style shows for more than 200 years.
The Niagara Falls walk set for Friday night, above a nearly 60m drop and through potentially high winds and vision-obscuring mist, will be unlike anything he has ever done. Because it’s over water, the 5cm wire won’t have the usual stabiliser cables to keep it from swinging. Pendulum anchors are designed to keep it from twisting under his elkskin-soled shoes on the 550m walk from the US shore to Canada.
Unlike his usual antics – Wallenda been known to make phone calls and lie down on the wire mid-walk – he may be more inclined to get from one side to the other as quickly as possible, a request from his 11-year-old son.
About a dozen other tightrope artists have crossed the Niagara Gorge downstream, dating back to Jean Francois Gravelet, aka The Great Blondin, in 1859. But no one has walked directly over the falls, and authorities haven’t allowed any tightrope acts in the area since 1896. It took Wallenda two years to persuade US and Canadian authorities to allow it.
Wallenda will have one safeguard, a tether that will keep him out of the water if he falls. ABC, which is sponsoring and televising the walk, insisted on it. But Wallenda is uncomfortable. “This is what we do,” he said. “I feel like I’m cheating at that point.” The family’s shunning of safety devices has always been part of the appeal. “Life,” he said, quoting his great-grandfather, “is on the wire. Everything else is just waiting.” – Sapa-AP