King of the High Wire

Nik Wallenda is the seventh generation of Great Wallendas who trace their roots back to the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1780. For Nik, every walk is an expression of honor to his great grandfather, the legendary Karl Wallenda who brought the Wallendas to America for The Greatest Show on Earth. During the depression era, his crowning achievement was the seven-person chair pyramid: four men standing on a wire as two pairs with two more men standing on their shoulder bars holding a woman sitting, then standing on a chair at the top of the pyramid.

The Wallendas successfully performed it for decades until January 30,1962 when, in Detroit, the front man on the wire faltered and three men fell to the ground, two to their deaths. Karl Wallenda’s son was paralyzed.

Karl continued performing “Sky Walks,” walking between buildings and across stadiums, including Busch, Veterans, JFK, 3 Rivers Stadiums and the Astrodome, among others. His most famous walk was a 1200-foot long trek across the Tallulah Falls Gorge in Georgia, where 30,000 people watched as the 65-year-old legend performed two separate headstands at a height of over 700 feet in the air.

Sadly, during a high wire walk in San Juan, Puerto Rico in March 1978, Karl Wallenda, age 73, fell to his death. It was not because of his age, capabilities, or the wind that day, but because of bad rigging, a reason Nik Wallenda and his father always oversee every inch of rigging themselves.

Nik Wallenda was “performing” on a high wire before he was born; his mother, Delilah Wallenda, was still walking the high wire six months pregnant with him. Nik’s official first performance was in 1981 at age 2 as a tiny clown carried around in a pillow case. He also began walking the wire that same year but was not permitted to perform professionally on a high wire until age 13. In 2001, he set his first world record in Kurashiki, Japan for the 4 layer 8 person pyramid on a high wire.

On June 4, 2011, Nik Wallenda successfully completed the high wire walk in San Juan that his grandfather had never completed — a 135-foot-long high-wire crossing between the two towers of the ten-story Condado Plaza Hotel. Stunning the crowd, Wallenda’s mother, Delilah joined him on the high wire, mother and son starting at opposite ends. When Delilah reached the middle of the wire, roughly the spot Karl had fallen, she sat down on the wire and Nik stepped over her before the two continued to opposite ends of the wire. Before finishing, Nik knelt down on the wire and blew a kiss in honor of his great-grandfather’s memory.

After the feat, Wallenda said he was “not scared at all,” but admitted that the circumstances of Karl’s death had haunted him for years. “To be able to walk in his exact footsteps is an extremely huge honor, and I did this for him as much as I did it for my family to get some closure.” Perhaps not for everyone. Immediately after the Niagara Falls high wire walk, Nik phoned his grandmother, Karl Wallenda’s daughter who had told him she was too frightened to watch.

The Niagara Falls walk marked Nik Wallenda’s seventh world record, including one for the highest and longest bike ride on a wire which he performed from Newark, N.J. live on NBC’s Today Show October 15, 2008.  The walk over the Grand Canyon added an 8th world record to his achievements.

By his side throughout is the beautiful Erendira, the high energy circus performer he married after his 1999 proposal from the high wire, on bended knee in front of 18,000 in Montreal, Canada. Erendira is also circus royalty. On her mother’s side, she is the eighth generation of the Ashtons of Australia, the third oldest circus family in the world. On her father’s side, she is the seventh generation of the Vazquez trapeze artists from Mexico, known worldwide as the first to successfully complete the quadruple somersault.

Nik and Erendira have three children: Yanni, Amadaos and Evita who, remarkably, have DNA passed down from 25 generations of circus performers.

Up next, Nik Wallenda is already in the planning stages of his next death-defying televised wire walk.  In the meantime, he has become a highly sought after speaker, sharing his inspiring stories of his walks and life at churches, conferences, and corporate events; and he continues performing daredevil stunts around the world, without any safety devices, including an October skywalk at a Charlotte Motor Speedway NASCAR event, the “wheel of death,” hanging by his jaw from a helicopter.  He and his wife also produce full shows ranging from private parties and corporate events to theatre shows, amusement parks and fairs.

“What is the purpose of your trip sir?” the passport agent asked. “To inspire people around the world to follow their dreams and never give up,” Wallenda said.

Spoken as he fulfilled his life-long dream of becoming the first person to walk a wire directly over Niagara Falls on June 15, 2012, Nik Wallenda not only joined the ranks of legendary daredevils, he proved to an audience of over 13 million that no obstacle is too great to overcome in pursuit of one’s dreams.  The heart-pounding event took two years of strategic planning which included geological surveys, engineering feats and political lobbying of U.S. and Canadian officials to change laws in both countries that, for the past 116 years, banned daredevil stunts at Niagara Falls.  Walking directly over the 600,000 gallons per second roaring over the Horseshoe Falls, he battled wind swells and dangerously thick mist at the center of the falls, before emerging to the delight of 120,000 fans on the Canadian side awaiting his arrival.