In the days leading up to one of his craziest stunts ever, tightrope walker Nik Wallenda has done the following: drop his kid off at school. Paint windowsills. Mow the lawn.
“It’s not like I’m preparing for the end of my life,” laughs the 36-year-old Sarasota, Florida, resident. “I’m a father, a husband and a homeowner.”
One with a highly unusual, risky job. Born into a famous family of daredevils, Wallenda has traversed a tightrope stretched across the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and in between skyscrapers in Chicago.
On Wednesday, Wallenda will walk — untethered — atop the 400-foot high Orlando Eye, the city’s new, flashy observation Ferris wheel.
As it spins.
He won’t use a balancing pole and won’t have a safety net. The walk will be broadcast live on NBC’s “Today.”
“As far as events for me, fairly stressful and demanding. I guess there’s more of a comfort zone on a wire,” he said.
Wallenda will board the giant Ferris wheel like any normal spectator, taking a passenger capsule to the top. He’ll then have to climb out of the capsule and down a ladder, he said, then walk on the outer rim as it spins. Wallenda estimated that the rim is about six inches wide. The walk could take 3 to 5 minutes and he said he must avoid parts of the Ferris wheel as it rotates.
He said that unless there’s a “torrential downpour” he will perform the stunt as planned.
“I’m prepared to walk on it, expecting it to be damp or moist, it’s just something I’m gonna have to face,” Wallenda said during a news conference Monday. “My actual concern with the dampness is not the actual walking part. It’s actually getting to the point where walking it, because my hands have to grab onto those ladders and work my way there. I don’t want to slip on the way there.”
Wallenda, who is married with three children, doesn’t take his events lightly. He prays, thinks about death and practices rigorously while coldly calculating risks.
His great-grandfather, family patriarch Karl Wallenda, died in a fall during a stunt in 1978 in Puerto Rico. Two other family members also died decades ago while performing.
Being a daredevil performance artist is in Wallenda’s blood. Wire walking is his specialty, and in recent years, his talents and scary stunts have been televised.
Last year, Wallenda walked on two wires between Chicago skyscrapers, at one point blindfolded. He didn’t use a safety harness or net.
In 2013, Wallenda successfully walked a tightrope stretched across the Little Colorado River Gorge near the Grand Canyon. That walk was televised by the Discovery Channel. There was no safety net and Wallenda didn’t use a tether.
In June 2012, Wallenda was the first person to walk over the brink of Niagara Falls. Other daredevils have crossed the water farther downstream but no one had walked a wire of the river since 1896. He did that walk with a tether because a TV network requested it for safety.
Wallenda said last week that he hopes he is an inspiration for others. People don’t need to risk their lives, he said, but they should push themselves to do better, be greater.
“I think people become very complacent these days,” he said. “I’ve always been a strong believer in pushing myself in everything I can do. Be a better husband, father and person in general. I hope that what I do inspires people to step out of their comfort zone and do greater things.”