Nik Wallenda says he’s like a kid on Christmas morning, about to live a dream he’s had since he was six years old, when he first visited Niagara Falls and decided he wanted to walk across it.
Now he’s about to attempt it for real, crossing the Falls on a specially-installed 1,800 foot, 2-inch steel cable for a live television special Friday night.
“I’ve done walks higher, I’ve done walks longer, but none will compare to this,” he says.
Wallenda has been wire walking almost since he took his first baby steps.as a child. He comes from seven generations of trapeze artists and tightrope walkers including his grandfather Karl Wallenda, who died after falling off a tight rope in Puerto Rico in 1978 at age 73.
Falling to his death isn’t an option at Niagara. Unlike earlier acts where he worked without a net or tether, Wallenda will wear a harness attached to a trolley trailing behind him for the walk across the Falls. It wasn’t his choice. ABC, which is broadcasting the event and paying Wallenda a substantial fee, insisted on the provision.
“They want to promise their viewers Nik Wallenda will not lose his life,” the 33 year old father of three said at a pre-walk press conference. “It doesn’t keep me on the wire, it keeps me safe from falling. I still have to stay on top of that wire.”
If he does slip but doesn’t drop his 30 foot balance pole, Wallenda says he’ll climb back up on the two-inch cable and resume his 35- to 40-minute journey across the Gorge. If he drops his pole, he’ll have to sit and wait for help to arrive.
Wallenda will wear custom boots for the historic attempt, made by his mother. Part moccasin and part ballet shoe, the bottoms are suede leather which Nik says actually grip better when wet, which is good since he’ll likely be surrounded by the Falls famous mist.
He’s spent two years prepping for the walk battling a no-stunt policy (in place since the last person crossed on a wire back in 1896, albeit a mile downriver from the Falls themselves), dealing with government agencies in two countries, haggling over fees and contracts and
stipulations. And he says it’s OK if people call it a stunt, but he considers it his craft.
“I see a stunt as somebody who gets in a barrel and goes over the edge and hopes they don’t hit a rock," he said. "What I do is very calculated. I train a long time for it and I consider it more of an art. I guess I don’t get offended by them calling it a stunt but to me it’s more of an art than anything.”
And he laughs when people call him crazy.
“I’ve been walking wire since I was two years old. It’s very natural to me, very normal," Wallenda said. "The first step’s the hardest, but once I’m on that wire I’m committed and I’m going to make it to the other side."
Rick Leventhal currently serves as New York-based senior correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network as a correspondent in 1997.