Man on steel

Nik Wallenda
GRAND CANYON, JUNE 21, 2013:
Tightrope walker Nik Wallenda inspects the two inch cable two days before his successful walk 460m above Arizona’s Grand Canyon (Photo Tim Boyles/Getty Images)

New world record: No net, no harness, just a 21kg balance pole.

Nik Wallenda has proven again that he is the most daring of daredevils and perhaps of all time. As he walked across a thin strip of metal cable over a gorge in the Grand Canyon, the 34-year-old made his eighth Guinness world record on June 23.

His 460m-high (1500ft) walk on a two-inch-thick metal cable across the Little Colorado River Gorge not only added a major notch in the seventh generation tightrope walker’s career, but it brought the Discovery Channel, which featured the event as a two-hour-plus program, a generous ratings boost with 13 million TV viewers worldwide.

As he did during his historic walk beside the Niagara Falls in 2012, the 34-year-old father of three, dubbed “The King of the Wire”, prayed out loud to Jesus Christ, whom Christians call the King of Kings. Stepping steadily, hopping and jogging, he took 22 heart-stopping minutes to cross the 430 metre expanse between the gorge’s cliffs.

Nik’s prayers visibly intensifi ed when sudden wind gusts, recorded at 50kph (30mph), forced the acrobat to pause and kneel to check his rhythm.

As he slowly got back up on his feet, he began to praise God, audibly saying, “Be with me Jesus... I love you Jesus... Thank you God for giving me new strength and for taking away my anxieties.”

Near the end of his walk, he ran the remaining few feet, hopped off the wire and kissed the ground.

Responding to criticism that he was ‘testing God’, the born-again Christian said: “If I was testing God, I’d walk out in the middle of an interstate in the rain while a car was coming at me at 70 miles an hour and say, ‘God, if you’re real the car will stop.’ I don’t believe God holds me on that wire in any way. I believe that God gave me a very unique ability to walk the wire and it’s up to me whether I want to train properly or whether I want to prepare for it.”

Nik and Erendira Wallenda
BORN INTO THE CIRCUS: Nik and Erendira Wallenda

The acrobat’s astonishing latest feat adds to the legend of the renowned Wallenda family, famous for thrilling audiences and the subject of a 1978 TV movie, “The Great Wallendas.”

The late Karl Wallenda, Nik’s great grandfather, died in a tragic accident in 1978 during a walk between the 10 story towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. A sudden gust of wind made the wire sway because it had not been rigged properly, tragically causing Karl to fall to his death, aged 73.

As they face death constantly, it is no surprise that Nik grew up in a “Bible-believing, God-fearing family,” which he says provides stability and peace.

His faith is a vital component of his daily life: “It’s the most important part of my life… It’s undeserved, but God’s involvement in my life has gotten me to where I am in my career.”

Prior to his walk by the Niagara Falls, Nik explained how God always comes fi rst for his family.

“Before I set out,” he told Guideposts magazine, “I will join with my family in prayer, just as I do before every walk I take on the wire. We will thank God for a gift we may not understand but which we know we must honour. I train, I focus and I have faith in the path I feel called to follow – I know God is with me every step of the way.”

Married to Erendira, also from a circus family, Nik and members of his extended family joined in 1998 to recreate the seven-person chair pyramid that tragically killed two and paralysed Nik’s uncle in 1962. After their 1998 success, Nik says he realised that that God had given him a gift and “the only way to honour it was to use it.”

“Even if it was diffi cult, even if it was dangerous,” he explains. “Danger was real, but fear was a choice. I would choose faith instead—after all, that was a part of my family legacy too. Everything we did was for the glory of God.”

Retirement is not on Nik’s mind. He now wants to walk the high wire between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building in Manhattan. Mayor Bloomberg has already responded, “Not in MY city!”

Wherever he performs next, Nik wants the show to go on. After all, it is in his blood.

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