A High-Wire Walk with God

A High-Wire Walk with God

His parents wanted something better for him than the circus life. But what could be better?

Nik Wallenda on a high wire 200 feet over Sarasota, Florida

The two-inch-wide steel cable felt cold and wet beneath the elk-skin-soled moccasins my mother had made me. I slid one foot forward, then the other.

Below was the lip of Niagara Falls, where 600,000 gallons of water per second plunged 170 feet straight down to jagged rocks. Billowing white clouds of spray spewed hundreds of feet into the air.

The wind machines and fire hoses I’d practiced with were nothing compared with the turbulence that buffeted me and the swirling mist that made it hard to even see the high wire swaying under my feet.

I grasped the 40-pound balancing pole. It lowered my center of gravity and helped steady me on the 1,500-footlong wire I was walking, crossing from New York to Canada. I still had a long way to go.

“Looking good, Nik.” My dad’s voice came through my earpiece, quiet and soothing against the roar of the falls below. “Nice calm steps.”

My heart pounded, not from fear but from excitement. Out there in the floodlit darkness were thousands of people watching me attempt this feat, hundreds of news cameras recording my every step.

Other people had crossed the Niagara Gorge back in the 1800s but never directly over Horseshoe Falls. I had dreamed of doing this walk since I was six years old, and now, 27 years later, it was finally happening. “Thank you, Lord,” I said out loud, over and over.

You might be wondering how someone gets a dream like this—I know it seems crazy to a lot of people. I really think that my dream chose me. Walking the high wire is in my blood. I’m part of the seventh generation of a circus family that began performing in Eastern Europe in the 1780s.

My mom walked the line while pregnant with me. I was walking a two-foot-high practice wire in my parents’ backyard by the age of two.

One night a program about my family came on TV. Grainy, silent news footage showed a balding man walking a wire between two tall buildings in Puerto Rico. Suddenly, the wire started to shake, and the man’s pole bobbed up and down like a seesaw.

My mom tried to coax me away from the television but I was mesmerized. The man lowered himself, then grabbed at the wire and hung on for a moment before falling to his death.

“Who was that?” I asked my parents.

They exchanged a long look before my dad answered. “That was your great-grandfather, Karl Wallenda. Your mother’s grandfather. He made the family name what it is.”

I was too young to fully understand then what he meant, but I knew Karl was important. I peppered my parents with lots more questions about him and the rest of our family while we traveled the country, as we did much of each year, performing in circuses and fairs.

My parents walked the wire, while my older sister and I had supporting roles in their act. It might be surprising, but I never really worried about my parents doing what they did for a living. Before every show we prayed together. “Dear Father, protect us, and may our talents be used for your glory,” my dad would say.

We often drove in a truck for 12 or more hours a day, singing along to praise and worship music, before settling in at a campground where my sister and I caught up on our lessons with Mom. On one of these trips, we visited Niagara Falls.

“I want to walk across the waterfall when I grow up,” I announced to my parents.

My dad chuckled. “No one has even been allowed to try that for almost a hundred years.”

Shaking her head, my mom added, “There are lots of other things you can do in life besides walking the wire, Nikolas. Work hard and you can do anything.”

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