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High-Wire Daredevil Nik Wallenda

With Anthony Brooks in for Tom Asbhrook

Just back from the Grand Canyon, we’ll talk with “King of the High-Wire” Nik Wallenda.

Aerialist Nik Wallenda near the end of his quarter mile walk over the Little Colorado River Gorge in northeastern Arizona on Sunday, June 23, 2013. The daredevil successfully traversed the tightrope strung 1,500 feet above the chasm near the Grand Canyon in just more than 22 minutes, pausing and crouching twice as winds whipped around him and the cable swayed. (Tiffany Brown, Discovery Channel/AP)

Aerialist Nik Wallenda near the end of his quarter mile walk over the Little Colorado River Gorge in northeastern Arizona on Sunday, June 23, 2013. The daredevil successfully traversed the tightrope strung 1,500 feet above the chasm near the Grand Canyon in just more than 22 minutes, pausing and crouching twice as winds whipped around him and the cable swayed. (Tiffany Brown, Discovery Channel/AP)

Nik Wallenda knows well that life is a balancing act.

When he was just four, he saw a video of his great grandfather stumble and fall to his death from a high wire. It was a family tragedy, but it inspired Nick to pick up where his great grandfather left off — or fell off.

He’s cheated death again and again, walking high wires around the world, between sky-scrapers, over Niagara Falls, and across a 1500-foot gorge near the Grand Canyon.

This hour, On Point: Nick Wallenda’s faith and balance.

Guest

Nik Wallenda, seventh generation high-wire artist. His memoir is “Balance: A Story of Faith, Family, and Life on the Line.” (@NikWallenda)

Videos

Wallenda walked across the gorge of Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park, near the Grand Canyon, earlier this week:

Wallenda walked across Niagara Falls in 2012:

Audiobook Excerpt

Excerpted from “Balance” by Nik Wallenda, read by Steve Gibbons.

Book Excerpt

Excerpted from “Balance” by Nik Wallenda. Courtesy of Hachette Book Group. Copyright 2013 Nikolas Wallenda. All rights reserved.

Read additional excerpts from each chapter of “Balance.”

Chapter 1: Dream

The first things I notice are the dogs. They’re Cairn terriers, like Toto in The Wizard of Oz, like the terriers that Mom and Dad keep as pets, the warm and fuzzy pups that are part of my clown act. I’m a kid in this dream, a little boy on a journey whose destination is unknown. I walk through the woods. The sky is clear, the sun bright, the air clean. The dogs run ahead of me, leading the way. The woods morph into a jungle. There are chimpanzees and exotic birds perched in the trees. Wildflowers are everywhere. In the distance, I make out the trumpet cry of an elephant. I hear the growl of lions and tigers. I’m not afraid because I’ve been around all sorts of animals. I’m a circus kid with circus parents from whom I’ve inherited a circus life. Are the dogs directing me to a circus where I’ll put on my clown’s outfit and perform?

As the dogs charge ahead, I sprint to keep up. The jungle turns into a green meadow and the meadow leads to a mountain covered with blue and yellow wildflowers. The sounds change. The cry of the beasts transforms into the roar of raging water.

What is the source?

Where is the water?

Chasing after the pups, I run up the mountainside. The faster I run, the taller the mountain seems to grow, the louder the roar. I keep running and running, wondering if this is a trick. Is this real? Will I ever reach the top?
I finally do. I stop to catch my breath and survey the scene. Spread out before me is a natural wonder, a spectacular horseshoe shaped waterfall commanding the width of the entire horizon.

“Walk over the falls.”

I turn around and see the man who has spoken these words. He is dressed in the billowy white shirt and satin trousers outfit of a circus performer. His face is friendly. His voice is not stern, not frightening, but simply clear. He speaks in a tone that is matter of fact, repeating the words for a second time—“Walk over the falls.”

Although the task seems impossible, the idea excites me. It seems like fun. I want to do it. I want to know how. I want to know where to set the poles and put up the cable. I want the man to instruct me. But just as I turn to him for more instruction, I wake up.

Over the years the dream will assume different forms, but the theme never changes. Not only am I challenged to achieve the impossible, but the challenges grow in dimension. I soon realize that the man who haunts my imagination, awake and sleeping, is Karl Wallenda, the great patriarch of the Wallenda family. He is the man who fell from the high wire to his death in Puerto Rico on March 22, 1978, ten months before my birth on January 24, 1979. He is the man who entered my dreams early in my life and has remained there ever since. He is also the man who is my mother’s grandfather and my father’s teacher, the man who literally brought my parents together and hired them to work in his company of performing artists.

Amazingly enough, one day the abstract dream becomes concrete reality when my parents are performing at the Shrine Circus in Buffalo. That’s when they take their two children to Niagara Falls. I’m six and my sister Lijana is eight. We spend months at a time on the road and on days off often visit places of interest like the Washington Monument or the field where the Battle of Gettysburg was fought. I like these tourist excursions. I find them fascinating. But Niagara is something else altogether. I’m not only stunned by its tremendous size, but thrilled to be facing an awesome sight that seems to have emerged from my dream.

“I’ve been here before,” I tell my dad.

“You must have seen pictures, son,” he says. “We’ve never been here before.”

“I have.”

Dad laughs off my remarks, but I cling to the memory. As we drive from the American side to Canada for a closer look at the rushing waters cascading some twenty stories down into the Niagara River, I relive my dream. My heart beats like crazy. I don’t feel at all crazy. I feel connected. I feel centered. I don’t know what to call these feelings. I don’t know how to describe the excitement coursing through me. I don’t know words like “destiny” and “purpose.” My parents have taught us that all good things come from God, so I do know that this sensation of being connected to my dreams has to be good. I know that God has to be at the center of my imagination that is constructing a wire across the Falls. In my mind, I see myself walking from one country to another. Even as a child, I realize that the vision isn’t mine. It has come to me in a dream. It has come to me from a relative I have never known. But now I am standing before it, my face wet from the spray of water. My eyes are wet with tears of joy.

I know what I have to do.

I know I will do it.

But in doing it–not in a dream, not in the imagination of a child, but in real time before millions of television viewers the world over–I will require two and a half decades of learning. Those lessons engage the mind but mostly they engage the spirit. The lessons involve steely determination. Yet the source of that determination is God.

Without Him, there is no journey, no lesson, no dream.

From The Reading List

The Washington Post: Nik Wallenda Gives Us A Rarity In Modern Life: Something Real — “Wallenda took more than 23 minutes to cross the gorge, counting the occasions when he paused on a knee in the wind that buffeted him and blew red dust in his eyes. The walk lasted long enough for us to wonder why daredevils still appeal to us, even as they do something that seems almost archaic. Why did millions tune in to a seventh generation aerialist on a high wire over a gorge near the Grand Canyon without a harness?”

The Los Angeles Times: Nik Wallenda’s High-Wire Walk, Jesus Talk Revs Up Twitter — “As Wallenda inched across the cable suspended 1,500 feet in the air, he near-continuously offered up public testament of his strong Christian beliefs. That became especially important when the rising winds over the gorge began to sway the cable Wallenda stood on.”

Forbes: One Problem With Nik Wallenda’s Grand Canyon Walk: It Isn’t At The Grand Canyon — “Although the tribal park is not in the actual Grand Canyon, they’re close neighbors. Some have called it a ‘little Grand Canyon,’ and the Little Colorado River feeds into the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.”

 

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  • 1Brett1

    I have a friend who worked on that “show” as a camera operator.

    Speaking of it being a “show,” Mr. Wallenda’s references to Jesus were right down repugnant. But, aside from that, he has reduced the high wire act to a complete spectacle. The circus and carnival traditions of both high wire and slack rope acts carry with them a certain entertainment, with people balancing things, riding bicycles, performing gymnastics, etc. 

    The Wallenda’s (also remembering seeing his grandfather fall to his death and a couple of others in the family dying during a “performance”) have reduced the art form to providing the audience a mixture of feeling uneasy about his maybe not making it, not wanting to see his death, and watching to see the spectacle of possible tragedy, of possibly seeing someone fall to his death. It promotes the lowest in human spectacle, like the Romans watching lions tear people to shreds or gladiators fighting to the death…Jesus would be appalled.   

    • donniethebrasco

      You find Jesus offensive?

      What a nut.

      What if he were talking about Allah Akbar?

      If he were he would be killing people instead of going across a wire.

      • 1Brett1

        No, but I find asking “Jesus” for help in such a manner, especially while performing and knowing every breath is being broadcast, to be a bit cheesy. Did you even read my comment? If you had, you would have seen the context (right at the very end). If you aren’t going to read my comments before you reply to them, and if you are simply going to go off half-cocked just to make some stupid point about all MUslims being murderers, then please refrain, or switch to decaf, or take your medication, or seek help…or something.

        • JobExperience

           “Oh Lord wantcha buy me a  Mercedes Benz. My friends all drive Porches. I must make amends.” (Joplin)
          We Americans always love cheesie wrapped in bacon. (Deen)

      • JobExperience

        Boo! Boo! Jesus gonna get  me! I’m so scared!!!!!!
        And I thought Satan was the bad guy. If Donnie will plant a seed of $100 with me Today, and if he hatheth unwavering Faith: Gawdeth will rewardeth hism with a Million dollerz before Oggust! Believe my Shun and plant that Sheed. To noteth doeth itith is like Spittething in Gawd’s Faceth. The Loveth of Wealth therefore iseth the Loveth of Gawd!!!!!

    • JobExperience

      According to the edited Bible Jesus was quite a showman himself: Walking on water (skiing?), swamping the boat with fish, turning water into wine, purifying harlots  handing out fastfood fish sandwiches to a multitude of 5,000,  returning from death after a Raymond Teller-like crucifixion scene, Reanimating Lazarus, sticking a soldier’s severed ear back on, making the blind see…. and so on and so forth. It’s no wonder Superman was modeled on Him. It’s the same tricks magicians do today. Most of it is taken from Gnostic visions and there is no proof such a guy ever lived. It’s all showbiz from Genesis to Revelations. Next NASCAR drivers will be singing “Jesus Take the Wheel” like Carrie Underwood the autotuner.
      If NIK slips and bruises his groin the Devil made him do it and Jack Frost will be painting your window panes next February if the Weatherman permits. It is a pretty little gorge on the Little Colorado River where he was working, but remember he had a global choice about where to string his cable. It’s a short hop to Vegas.

      • 1Brett1

        That’s a good point…Jesus probably does look over showmen, stuntmen and con artists to protect them…I hadn’t thought of that!

  • Emily4HL

    Questions for Nik Wallenda

    After hearing your Wait, Wait interview in which you talked about skill and not being superstitious, I was surprised that you called on Jesus to calm the wire. Praising Jesus for the beauty of the canyon and safety on each step makes sense to me, but asking him for favors while you’re up there seems very superstitious. It no longer seems to be trusting your skill and practice. Can you speak to your faith, your lack of superstition,. and your skill and how they intersect on the wire?

    How did you feel about the Discovery channel’s constant emphasis on
    danger and death? As a viewer, I was much more interested in human skill
    and human achievement than the possibility of seeing someone die, gladiator style, on live TV.

    Why did you ask your father to stop telling you how long you’d been on the wire?

    Can you give those of us who aren’t wire walkers an idea of what the vibration and reverb of the wire feels like?

    Does your son Amadeus really love music? If so, did he come to music with or without knowledge of his connection with Mozart? Or, is he just doomed to have the media show him playing the piano?

  • donniethebrasco

    Halleluiah.

  • donniethebrasco

    NPR hates Christians.

    • Ray in VT

      That’s why they never have them on their shows.  Those poor persecuted people.  What a cross they bear.

      • JobExperience

        Watch the Swaggerts for 5 minutes and you’ll see why TV Christians are just embarrassing.

        • Ray in VT

          I’d rather not.  My sister in law and I used to watch the TBN for laughs.  I like Jesus.  I just don’t like his fan club.

        • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

          jimmy swaggert is still alive and on tv?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1091744903 Tracy Estabrook Boal

    :eyeroll:

  • Emily4HL

    Also, how does having such a heavy balancing pole help you? That seems counter-intuitive?

    • JobExperience

       Size matters.

  • brian copeland

    I’m curious of the longest amount of time he has continuously spent on a wire.

  • Jon

    Confidence is from faith – truth be told. Who disagrees Sarah Palin’s confidence from faith as well?

  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    is this guy getting a reality show or what?

  • 1Brett1

    I prayed for Nik Wallenda to be on the show…oh, thank you, Jesus!

    • 1Brett1

      I prayed that I would have the courage to comment on this show…oh, thank you, Jesus!

      • 1Brett1

        I prayed that I would be able to reply and thank Jesus…oh, thank you, Jesus!

        • 1Brett1

          Thank you, Jesus, for allowing me to thank you, Jesus!

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