Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Afraid of Heights? Nik Wallenda Isn't!

Sarasota, FL      High:    83     Low:   62

Sparky's not afraid of heights, at least as long as it's not the high diving board in a swimming pool. Hard to find THOSE any more, but when Sparky was a kid, the local high school where she learned to swim and eventually became a lifeguard/swim teacher, had one. Sparky's dad offered her 100.00 to JUMP off the high dive, not DIVE off the high dive. "Just jump for God's sake!" and Sparky said NO WAY! Her dad knew she wouldn't take the bait, so that's why he offered such a high reward. Her dad was disgusted with Sparky's lack of courage, but Sparky didn't care.

Sparky has been in some VERY high places, and as long as there's a railing, she's ok, but she doesn't stay up high for a really long time. A quick look around at the scenery, and she's ready to come back down......Bouncing around in a ski lift gondola going up a mountain makes her a little nervous--what if it gets stuck halfway up the mountain? Ditto for big Ferris wheels....And if something sways or moves while she's on it, uh, let's just say she'll endure for long enough to get some photos, then back down she comes. She never lets on that heights COULD be a problem.....Gotta get that photo for the blog! (Hm-m-m-mmmm...I never knew that! exclaims E.)

Nik, in the yellow shirt
Nik Wallenda, 33 years old, is not afraid of heights, either. He's the Sarasota native who is 7th generation of the famous circus Flying Wallendas family. His ancestors and family have been in the business for over 200 years. He's known for his high wire performances without a safety net or harness. He walked over Niagra Falls in June, 2012, on a tightrope, but they made him wear a tether, much to his disappointment. The Sarasota council had to approve the wire walking without the harness. They said, "It's the circus capital of the world. Let's let him do it the way the Wallendas do things." Why did he choose Sarasota? Nik wanted to do something to give back to the city that has supported him.

He's a pretty interesting guy as far as being a risk taker...In 2001, he was the part of the first eight person pyramid on a high wire. In 2011, he and his mom high wire walked between two hotel towers in Puerto Rico, duplicating the walk that killed his great grandfather, Karl Wallenda. At the point where his great grandfather fell, he stopped and kissed the wire. In June, he plans to highwire walk the Grand Canyon! He's married, has a beautiful wife who also walks the wire, they have three kids, and his Christian faith is very central to his life.

This week we had heard that he was going to do a 200 foot high wire walk in downtown Sarasota with a total stroll of 600 feet, so of COURSE we had to go see that! He was going to walk over highway 41 from the huge statue of "Unconditional Surrender" or THE KISS, as the locals call it, over to a tower across the highway. Sparky got her camera ready and this is what transpired....

The crew, Wallenda's bucket brigade, was on the scene from about 10:00 PM last night till 4:00 AM this morning, setting up the wire. The steel cable is the width of a nickel and is about 3/4 of an INCH thick. Highway 41 was allowed to be closed for an hour. The crew had only 15 minutes to get the guide wires adjusted.

There were 32 guide wires, 16 on each side. Sparky thought this was going to be a cakewalk for Nik, but that was not to be the case. Normally, he's about 150 feet off the ground but today it had to be 200 feet because of the start and finish height. The guide wires were altered and lengthened for the additional height of the walk. There was WIND today, and they had trouble getting the pole up to him at the top of the bucket.

Nik was raised up in a bucket to the beginning of the wire walk by the downtown Sarasota KISS statue. He was wired into his crew and his dad, and was talking to his dad the whole time he walked across the wire, according to a newscaster that we talked to later and who overheard some of the conversation. Here he is, taking his first step up onto the wire.
And he's on totally!

After he got going, he was complaining about the movement of the wire and was heard by the newscaster, to say, "HOLY CRAP! C'mon, guys, it's too sloppy up here!"....The wire guide men down on the ground could feel every step that he took through the guide wires they were holding. In an interview, Nik said he wanted to stop at the halfway point, but couldn't. No safety net below.

Later, Nik thought that the looseness of the wire might have been due to the altered guide wire configuration they used today. You could see the gusts of wind rippling the back of his shirt as he walked the wire. The crowd became totally silent.

The wind picked up..Stronger than expected winds.....Nik paused a couple of times....

At one point, he was talking to his dad, and his dad told him to call it off and stop. Nik replied, "That's easy for you to say!" He was already half way across! He was joking with his father while walking, "Who do I need to spank when I get down?" Apparently, the wind was so bad that he revealed in an interview later that he wanted to stop halfway through, but had no choice, he had to keep going....We saw him bend down and stop for a moment a little further on. What he was doing was blowing a kiss to the crowd. The crowd let out a little cheer.

He got back up and on he continued......

Sparky saw some big pelicans flying around and a great blue heron. She worried that the birds could be a serious obstacle and distraction. They didn't get too close...Whew!

It was an exciting 9 minutes!   It was nerve wracking! The crowd was tense! All eyes were skyward....

Almost to the other end.....

We couldn't believe it as he hopped/ran across the last five or six steps before he reached the top of the tower.

He made it! The crowd cheered. Nik pumped his fist! Wish we had a different vantage point from above to show the Sarasota skyline even with his wire...You really get a different perspective of how high he was and how amazing the walk was. We watched it on the local news later, and you truly could see how difficult something like that is when you are looking across the high wire.

We waited around for him to come down....

After all the guide wires had come down and been stowed, Nik was back down safely on the ground and had an interview where he graciously answered questions from the crowd....When are you going to retire? He hopes "at age 50, but my great grandfather was still walking the wire at 73"....Do you hope your children follow in your footsteps?" "Not really, would YOU want YOUR children to do what I do?"  He also told his father that he couldn't have done the walk today without the experience of having the Niagara Falls walk because of the winds and air currents. That Niagara walk must have really been something. He trained in 90 m.p.h. winds to be ready for the Niagara Falls walk this past summer. He used a 30 foot pole balanced across his belly button, the pole is used to counteract sway. The weight of the poles vary, depending on what kind of walk he is going to do. Eldy heard on a news station that he had CAMERAS in the ends of his poles, so if you caught the newscast, you would have seen a bird's eye view of his walk today!

It was really exciting to see this today...We're so glad we were here to see this wonderful event. Nik did it to thank his hometown of Sarasota and to celebrate the opening of Circus Sarasota, where his wife will be wire walking with him.....Handsome guy, handsome family, charming, and gracious. He answered lots of questions from the Sarasota crowd, and posed for photos with lots of people. He seemed like a really wonderful guy, very down to earth. That's the kind of performer/entertainer we're talking about! Nik, you ARE King of the Wire!


  1. Wow, what a terrific commentary on the walk! I watched the Niagra falls walk, it was amazing. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Thanks for the pics and commentary, just like being there.

  3. What a fearless man. God bless him. Thank your for pics and great explanation.

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  5. How fun that you got to see Nik make the big walk! Thanks for the pictures and commentary!