Nik Wallenda is a master of the art of tightrope walking and is known as the “King of The High Wire.” Wallenda holds seven Guinness World Records for acrobatic feats and is a seventh-generation member of The Flying Wallendas family. Having begun tightrope walking at age 13, it was a surprise that Wallenda chose this as a profession. Just one year before, Wallenda said he was not interested in becoming a high-wire performer because of the dangerous risks. Wallenda has walked a tightrope across the Grand Canyon successfully and was the first person to walk across a tight rope over Niagra Falls. Read on for the details on Wallenda’s death-defying stunts, his high wire walk across the Chicago Skyline, how his parents feel about his dangerous walk, and the background on the Wallendas who have plummeted to their deaths.
1. He Is Blindfolded for his Daring Windy City Walk over the Chicago Skyline
Tonight, at 7 p.m. EST, Wallenda’s high-wire walk across the Chicago skyline will be broadcast on the Discovery Channel as he attempts to walk between skyscrapers. There will be two tightrope walks and the second will be blind-folded. The first will start at the top of the 587-foot Marina City West Tower, across the Chicago River to the 671-foot Leo Burnett building. This will be a distance of 454 feet and will have a 15 degree incline, forcing Wallenda to walk uphill. (UPDATE: The wire has a 19 degree incline, which is an unexpected factor in the feat.) Upon completion of the first walk, Wallenda will take an elevator down to the ground and head to Marina City’s East Tower for his second walk. The second walk will be blindfolded and will be from the Marina City’s East Tower to its West Tower. Wallenda works without a net and without a harness.
Wallenda’s father Terry Troffer works as his son’s safety coordinator and Wallenda’s Uncle Mike helps set up all the wires for him as well. Troffer is concerned, of course, but will be guiding his son along on his stunt.
2. Wallenda Believes the Potential of an Accident Is What Draws In Viewers
Wallenda has confessed to The Daily Beast:
The truth is, the dangers are real—I know; I’ve trained for them, I’ve prepared for them, and everything I do is calculated. I’m doing this because I love what I do. I know it’s hard for people to comprehend.
Wallenda goes on to talk about how the possibility of death is what draws viewers in, rather than the actual feat itself.
That’s why people watch. There’ll be more hits on Facebook for an accident then there’ll ever be for making it safely, because that’s what people want to see. As much as they say they don’t, they’re fascinated with it and that’s why we break records every time I do these TV specials.
3. His Great-Grandfather Plunged to His Death Performing a High Wire Stunt
Wallenda comes from a family of tightrope walkers, but, with big stunts comes great danger and Wallenda’s great-grandfather proved that. The Daily Beast relays the horrifying slip-up:
Even the first family of the high wire has had its calamities, most notably his great-grandfather’s live-on-television death plunge as he attempted a crossing between two ten-story buildings in Puerto Rico in 1978. Chilling footage of 73-year-old Karl Wallenda’s final seconds shows him trying calmly to redress his balance on a swaying, wrongly-rigged wire, sinking to his knees then fumbling hopelessly for a grip before falling 121 feet to the concrete below.
In 2011, Wallenda and his mother successfully recreated Karl’s incomplete walk between the twin towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in Puerto Rico. As Wallenda and his mother Delilah met in the middle of the wire, where Karl had fallen to his death, she sat down while her son stepped over her, drawing nervous reactions from those watching.
Sixteen years prior to this, Karl was injured, his son Mario paralyzed from the waist down, and two other family members killed when their signature formation—a seven-person pyramid collapsed during a show in Detroit, Michigan.
4. He Proposed to His Wife Erendira Wallenda on a High Wire
Wallenda’s wife, Erendira, is also a performer, so she understands her husband’s daredevil lifestyle. The couple were married in 1999, just one week after Wallenda proposed to her on a 30-foot high wire. The two live in Sarasota, Florida, with their three children. This is where Wallenda has been practicing his stunts, and building a replica of his Chicago Skyline walk to get prepared for the big event.
5. Delilah Wallenda, His Mother and Former Performer, Is Nervous About His Blindfolded Walk
Nik Wallenda’s mother Delilah Wallenda is also a former performer, but she isn’t too comfortable with the blindfold because she doesn’t like the idea of one of your senses being taken away in such a dangerous situation. She reveals to The Daily Beast:
As a mother, I’m concerned. But then, he’s living my dream. I’d love to be up there doing these incredible feats as well … It’s challenging, it’s the excitement of pushing yourself to your limit and knowing you can do more and more. We know what we’re doing. We can’t focus on ‘what-ifs.’ We have to respect danger, but we can’t be afraid. We have to be wise, focus and not overreact. If your equipment is good and your talent is up there, nothing should be stopping you.