High-wire walker Nik Wallenda has already conquered the Grand Canyon and now he's onto his next death-defying stunt. The 35-year-old daredevil now plans to traverse the tightrope above the Chicago River and walk the precarious 193 meter high distance between the east and west towers of Chicago's Marina City building on November 2. Metro chats to Wallenda, from Sarasota, Florida, who intends to do part of the televised event on the Discovery Channel blindfolded.
Your faith plays a really big role in your job, right?
Absolutely. My faith plays a huge role in my life, whether I’m walking wire or not. But it’s really where I find my strength and it’s how I stay calm when I’m doing stuff like this. Whenever I am in any situation that is stressful, whether it be dealing with one of my teenage kids or walking a wire, I always count on my faith to get me through that, and walking wire is the same thing.
It’s just another aspect of my life. It’s hard for those who weren’t raised in my family to understand, but my great-grandfather said, “Life is on the wire and everything else is just waiting.” For our family, walking wire is life, and it is a normal thing for us to do. I have 15 family members that currently walk the wire, including my three kids.
But who inspired you to become a funambulist?
My great-grandfather, Karl, was a huge inspiration. I do everything I do because of him. He’s the one who paved the road for me to able to do what I do, and he did lose his life walking between two skyscrapers. I have since recreated that exact walk that took his life.
Why are you taking on Chicago?
The Chicago walk really came about because I was attracted to the title of Chicago, as the “Windy City”. You would think most wire walkers would want to have nothing to do with that, but for me it was actually attractive. I enjoy challenging myself. I enjoy pushing myself to the next level, and the “Windy City” title again was just extremely attractive to me.
What is the maximum wind speed you’ve ever faced, and what are you expecting in Chicago?
I’ve walked a wire in winds of 120 mph (193 km/h) during training in a safe environment. I consistently train in about 70 to 90 mph winds (112 to 145 km/h). But in Chicago, it’s hard to say what the winds will be. Obviously none of us control the weather; we’re not in charge of Mother Nature, but if the winds were to exceed 50 mph (80 km/h), I would not step foot on that wire. We would hold off until the wind speeds would settle down some.
So you don’t feel comfortable against such winds?
I’ve walked the wire since I was 2, so I definitely know how to walk the wire. I’m very comfortable in somewhat extreme conditions. While I was crossing over the Grand Canyon, I got hit with 48 mph winds (77 km/h). Of course Niagara Falls were up there, as well as extreme humidity to the point where visibility was very limited, so really specific training for Chicago isn’t so much about the wind. It’s more about the rigging. If the rigging is done right, I know I have the ability to walk through strong winds.
How did you train for your first challenge?
I simulate when I train, I have a wire that is put up to the exact same 15°, 16° incline and the same distance, and I train on that cable to simulate exactly the angle that I’ll be walking up. And I do that multiple times, so it’s the same length, but I’ll do it three times in practice, so that I know that I can make it up one time without an issue. It’s all about endurance training.
But are you doing any extra mental preparation?
I don’t. It’s really about prayer, which I guess is a form of meditation, but my form of meditation is talking to God.
What would you tell somebody who is afraid of heights?
I believe that that is almost common sense that the fear of height is normal When I walk to the edge of a building, I’ve done these things that no one in the world has ever done and all at great heights. When I walk to the edge of a ten-storey building even to look over the edge, my heart starts to beat a little bit. I call that fear respect. I respect the fact that if I go over that edge, I could lose my life. I could get injured. I could get hurt, so I think it’s really on how we see things. You can see it as fear and go “I’m going nowhere near that edge,” or you can see it with respect and say, “As long as I stay behind that wall or as long as I stay a safe distance, I’ll be fine.”
Are your children afraid of losing you?
I’ve literally walked, I would say, thousands of miles on cables and my kids have been there for those events, so for them it’s not as dramatic as for someone else watching, because they’ve seen me do it so often – it is actually just normal.