“It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was six years old,” says Nik Wallenda.
Given that he’s the seventh generation of the world-famous Wallendas, a family circus troupe performing since 1780, Wallenda’s dream of walking a tightrope across Niagara Falls, ON, makes a strange kind of sense. He will make his attempt on June 15, 2012.
However, it was a tough sell.
In February 2012, following lengthy negotiations, the Ontario Parks Commission reversed a 128-year ban on stunts to approve a one-time exemption. Such an event won’t be repeated soon – the Commission’s new ruling restricts such feats to once every 20 years.
The 33-year-old Wallenda, the self-proclaimed “King of the High Wire,” will realize his childhood ambition, making the 472 metre (1,550 foot) walk from Goat Island on the US side to Table Rock on the Canadian side on a 5 cm (2-inch) wire suspended 53 metres (173 feet) above the churning waters of Niagara Falls.
Although Wallenda has completed higher, longer tightrope walks, the Niagara Falls crossing will be his most challenging, fraught with hazards such as strong winds and mist.
To prepare, Wallenda is training on a 365-metre-long (1,200-foot) tightrope suspended across a parking lot adjacent to the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls, NY, using wind machines and fire trucks to simulate the Falls’ conditions. The casino training sessions, held both morning and afternoon, are free and attract large crowds.
Other tightrope walkers have traversed the Niagara Gorge at lower heights – most notably the Great Blondin who, in 1859, made the crossing and paused to ride a bicycle, cook an omelet and do a backward somersault en route. The youngest to complete the feat was James Hardy, 21, while Maria Spelterina was both the only woman funambulist (tightrope walker) to cross and the only one to wear peach baskets on her feet.
Despite displaying great courage and daring, none of the other tightrope walkers ever walked directly over the Falls themselves, so on June 15 that distinction will belong to Nik Wallenda alone.
Enormous crowds are expected to gather on both sides of the Canadian/US border to witness the crossing. Those who can’t be at Niagara Falls for the event can watch a three-hour ABC special on stunting that will culminate in the live airing of Wallenda’s walk.
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