Nik Wallenda: Life on the Wire

July 8, 2013

On June 23, the King of the High Wire walked across a gorge near the Grand Canyon on a five-centimeter steel cable in 22 minutes and 54 seconds. So we had a few questions we wanted to ask him.

What was going through your mind as you walked across the canyon?

Nik Wallenda: In this particular walk I was extremely focused on the weather conditions and the effect that they had on the wire.  There were moments where I did take in the absolutely incredible view, and there were even some things that I had planned to talk with the hosts about during the walk, but those gave way to just focusing on the cadence of my steps, the unpredictable winds and the resulting movement of the cable, and even finding a point to focus upon.  As I hit the uphill portion about three-quarters of the way through the cable and I reached a point where I could count the remaining pendulums, there was a definite feeling that I was almost there. I think the run over the last 20 feet probably says it all as to my excitement as I approached the finishing platform.

How did your faith prepare and sustain you for such an amazing feat?

NW: My faith in God defines who I am.  I pray while on the wire because it brings me peace in the face of challenges that arise.  I believe God gave me this talent.  I’ve trained hard all my life to use that talent to accomplish these walks.

After losing loved ones to other high wire performances, what makes you still want to continue doing these kinds of stunts?

NW: I am a seventh-generation performer and my heritage goes back 200 years.  My great grandfather Karl may have said it best, “Life is on the wire. Everything else is just waiting.”  It truly is my passion.  Despite tragedy in my family’s history, my family never gave up.  They continued on.  I sign every autograph “Never Give Up” because it truly is what I live by.

How did you decide what you were going to wear for the big day?

NW: Interesting story there. The shirt was coordinated between myself, Discovery, and one of our sponsors, Mitsubishi, so that was always in the plan.  In regards to the pants, I do commonly walk in jeans, but that was not actually the original plan for this walk.  I had planned to wear golf-style athletic pants.  Shortly before the walk as I was getting ready, my wife, Erendira, said it just was not “my look.”  So I put on my pair of Buffalo Jeans, walked the wire, and apparently created a lot of buzz over wardrobe choice, because this has been a common question since the walk. I guess I can be thankful that my wife has a great sense of style!

What were the reactions of your friends and family when you told them what you were going to do and after you accomplished it?

NW: I think there is always that initial shocked look, perhaps the question, “Are you serious?” I think sometimes my father, my safety coordinator, and my uncle, my lead engineer, might just shake their heads in disbelief, and say, “OK, we’ll get to work on the design.”  Sometimes I think my kids really view my walks as “what my dad does for work.”  I think there’s a few camera shots of them texting during the walk.  One thing I will tell you from family and friends, though, is that they have extreme confidence in me.  I know that they are all behind me.  I would not be able to do these walks if I did not have that confidence from them, particularly from my wife and kids.

Are you ready to retire from tight-rope, high-wire walking or is there more to come?

NW: I still feel there’s more to come.  As I mentioned at the end of the walk, I have dreams of walking in a great American city, hopefully New York. I also have quite a few international dreams.  I always picture the postcard when looking for a place to walk, something visually amazing.  I have quite a few places in mind around the globe.

What would you tell someone who saw what you did and wants to do the same thing someday?

NW: First, train hard.  I started training when I was 2 years old, so I’ve been walking the wire only one year less than walking on the ground. The second thing, study the importance of rigging safety, proper design and setup.  This is so critical to every walk that I do.  Finally, never give up!  If it’s your dream, go after it!

Watch Wallenda’s history making skywire walk here on the Discovery Channel (channel 278) and catch his one-on-one interview with Bryant Gumbel on Real Sports (HBO channel 501).

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