In 31 years of tightrope walking, high-wire artist Nik Wallenda (33) has never worn a safety harness. And when he was forced to do so for the his walk across Niagara Falls on June 15, he wasn’t most-comfortable. “The TV network said ‘you have to wear it because we need to guarantee our viewers that you won’t lose your life on TV’,” says Nik, who truly hopes he never has to wear one again.
“That was the most nerve- wracking part as far as my mental condition was concerned during the Niagara walk. I couldn’t focus on everything I wanted to.” The feat made Nik the first person in the world to attempt it.
Nik’s family has been walking the tightrope and excelling in daredevilry for seven generations now. He started at the age of two. Yet, for the Niagara Falls walk, he trained extensively. “To begin with, I had to change two laws in Canada and USA, one of which was over 100 years old,” he says, adding, “To practice, I set up a wire of the same distance, but close to the ground. We created heavy winds using machines and got fire trucks to spray heavy mist at me while I walked to duplicate the worst-case environment.
So when I’m actually in the situation, I think, ‘Oh, I did this with 50 miles an hour winds, it’s not going to be bad in 25 miles an hour winds”. I always over-train.”
But it hasn’t all been so entertaining. Various members of Nik’s family have lost their lives to stunts. His great grandfather, Karl Wallenda, who led the act, The Flying Wallendas, also fell to his death. “It’s a part of life. I saw a video of him falling, and we’ve learnt why it happened. You need to be in the right physical condition. He was 73 years old. I know I will eventually retire too, I have another 20 years,” says Nik, adding that he’s most “calm when on the wire”.
Till the time comes, the American acrobat will continue pushing the boundaries. As part of the Discovery Channel weekly show, Danger By Design, Nik will be seen making and breaking many world records. “There’s more than high-wire walks — there’s one where I’m hanging off a helicopter using nothing but my jaw,” he says.