High-wire artist Nik Wallenda comes from a family legacy that goes back 200 years. Despite it claiming the lives of several members to date, he continues to defy death. Debashine Thangevelo found out what inspires Wallenda to fearlessly pursue his bucket list and why he decided to raise the stakes with Skywire Live with Nik Wallenda on Discovery Channel, where he walks across the Grand Canyon – sans a harness.
SOME would say Nik Wallenda’s latest undertaking is a fine line between foolhardy and fearless. Then again, nothing great was ever achieved without a fair amount of risk being involved.
This 34-year-old father of three, a seventh-generation member of the family of aerialists known as The Flying Wallendas, has been in training since he was two years old.
To date, he holds six Guinness World Records.
Who knows, perhaps in upping the ante for Discovery Channel’s Skywire Live with Nik Wallenda he will be celebrating another record-breaking milestone. After all, walking across the Grand Canyon without a harness is a brave move.
Then again, fear isn’t something he easily succumbs to – he did, after all, do a tightrope walk over Niagara Falls, from the US to Canada, at the dizzying height of almost 61m and, as a homage to his great-grandfather Karl, who plummeted to his death in Puerto Rico in 1978, joined his mother as they successfully did a tightrope walk between the twin towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
For his upcoming grand undertaking, he says: “Yes, there is a lot of training. My training actually started when I was two. My family have walked wires for more than 200 years. They actually started back in the 1780s. However, specific training for the Grand Canyon began on June 6 in Sarasota, Florida, which is my hometown where I set up the cable close to the same distance I’ll be walking over the Grand Canyon… but low to the ground.”
To help him better prepare for the walk, winds and updrafts were recreated to mirror the challenge of the actual experience.
Risk factor aside, I asked Wallenda which was his most unsettling achievement.
He recalls: “It would be when I went back and recreated the walk that took my great-grandfather’s life. It’s definitely the most memorable walk and the most close to my heart, for sure. There were many emotions and stress there. You know, I met the reporter who interviewed him right before he went up on that cable. And it was at the exact spot where he was interviewed. There was a lot going through my mind.”
Of the wire itself, Wallenda says it is made without any lubrication or grease so it is not slippery at all.
“The engineers have a long process they go through for the rigging. It is actually quite complex. We have to add pendulums to the wire which are basically these anchors that hang underneath the wire. They don’t attach to anything, but they keep the wire from twisting under my feet. They have to be aerodynamic so the wind goes around them.”
As for risk involved in deciding against a safety harness, he says: “Yes, I am not wearing any safety at all. However, we do, of course, do our best to prepare for any situation. If something were to come up while I was in the middle of that wire – as far as a big gust of wind and I would hold on. I have rescue personnel that could get to me anywhere on that wire in about 30 seconds. And I’d be taken back to safety.”
If all goes according to plan, the 427m-long walk at a height of 457m will take about 20 to 30 minutes.
On why he chose the Grand Canyon, Wallenda says: “I have what I consider a bucket list and it’s basically a list of things I want to do. I think we all have them in life, mine just happens to surround wire walking and carrying on a legacy of my family and seven generations. So Niagara Falls was one. The Grand Canyon another. And there are several more – the pyramids in Egypt, the Petronas Towers in Malaysia. (It) goes from one continent to another: from Turkey to Europe to Asia and over the Bosphorus Strait. So there are many, many of them.
“But the Grand Canyon is the one that has been on my mind the longest. For the past four years, I have actually been working on securing permits as well as the rigging design and such.”
Should he be triumphant with his latest endeavour, chances are Wallenda could earn a seventh Guinness World record, this time for the longest and highest crossing of a natural landmark.
But his focus is fuelled by an innate desire for victory, not glory at the moment. The latter, however, will be a bonus for the “high” achiever who proudly lays claim to the King of the Wire moniker.
• Don’t miss Skywire Live with Nik Wallenda on Discovery Channel (DStv channel 121) at 2am local time on Monday.