Walking the heights

Telly Talk

Walking the heights

Heights have fascinated tightrope legend Nik Wallenda since he was a child. Now, as he is all set to walk on a highwire across the Grand Canyon, he shares the details of his latest adventure with Arundhati Pattabhiraman.

Imagine walking on a two-inch highwire across the Grand Canyon with millions of spectators from across the world watching your every move with bated breath. With each step, you are getting closer to your goal, but are also inching towards danger, and a misstep can cost you your life. Yes, this is exactly what highwire artiste Nik Wallenda has been doing since he was a child, and now he is about to embark on another dangerous mission — to walk across the Grand Canyon. At an estimated distance of 5,000 feet (1,500 m), the feat would be the longest walk of Wallenda’s career.

Coming from a family of acrobats and entertainers, Nik is the seventh generation descendant of the legendary Wallenda Family acrobatic troupe, who performed death-defying acts to entertain and inspire people across the United States.

The Grand Act

After having braved the elements and walked across Niagara Falls last June, Nik talks about his next performance at the Grand Canyon, scheduled to take place tomorrow. “We started looking for an ideal location back in 2008. Finally, we narrowed down on the Grand Canyon and then started working on getting permits. Unlike Niagara, Grand Canyon will be more about winds. The winds are undetectable. It’s hard to tell when and where they are coming from. Airplanes and helicopters have problems flying at the Grand Canyon because of the winds,” he explains.

And what kind training did he have to undergo for this feat? “I trained in Florida with a cable nearly the same distance as the Grand Canyon. However, this was close to the ground. We used airboats to stimulate the winds. We tried to recreate what I would feel while crossing over the actual Grand Canyon.”

Apart from the rigorous physical training, Nik also has to keep his mind calm while pushing his physical limits. “What I do is very much a mental game, and I need to train my mind as well. And the way I do that is by thinking of the worst case scenarios. For example, when I’m training at a low height, I imagine myself walking over the Grand Canyon. On the other hand, when I perform the actual act, I imagine that I am training. And that’s why training is so important. It’s not only physical, but also mental,” he says.

What does fear mean to a man, who has performed several death-defying acts? “To be fearful is actually very dangerous. According to me, fear is a choice, but danger is real. I can decide whether I want to be scared or not, but danger, I can’t decide. It’s always there. I try to focus on the positive and not on the negative. I could lose my life, but I try not to focus on that. I focus on the positive. I focus on my training,” he says.

They say your whole life flashes in front of your eyes when you have a near-death experience. But what goes through Nik’s mind each time he performs? “I talk to God and ask him to help me calm those nerves. And that’s really the way I stay calm when I do these big walks. During my acts, I am in a place where there are not many people nearby. Clearly, there isn’t anyone out there with me other than God.”

Starting young

Having started walking on high-wires when he was two, Nik was born with the ability to put his body over the edge, and his great-grandfather Karl Wallenda was his greatest inspiration. “My great-grandfather is very inspirational to me. He lost his life walking between two buildings in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1978.” And how did Nik feel when he completed the walk that killed his great-grandfather? “Well, it was probably the most memorable moment of my life. It was important for me to go back there to show the world that despite our triumphs and tragedies, our family will continue to perform, and that it wasn’t wind so much, but other things.”

For a person who puts his life at stake every time, what kind of rush does Nik experience? “I always tell people I’m extremely blessed. I get paid to inspire people, to make them smile, to make them happy. And, you know, this is definitely the life I would choose if I had to choose one. This is not something my parents told me to do. But, I think any entertainer in the world will tell you that once they are in front of an audience, there’s something about it; there’s something alluring that you don’t want to turn away from it, and that is the case with me.”

When asked about his ultimate dream performance, Nik says, “I have dreams of walking in every country possible. But my dream is to walk a wire at every major landmark around the world, and there are many. The next big walk that I’m working on is walking from one continent to another — from Europe to Asia in Turkey.”

Watch Nik perform one of the most daring and captivating live events in history as he traverses the majestic Grand Canyon. Discovery Channel will capture the nail-biting, play-by-play live event on Monday, June 24, at 5.30 am, with a repeat telecast at 8 pm.

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