- (Photo: Contributed)
On June 23, 2013, high wire artist and acrobat Nik Wallenda will attempt to cross the Grand Canyon on a tightrope. It is expected to be the legend's most daring feat yet. If he falls, he says, he already knows where he's going. There's a very good chance though, he won't.
About a year ago, Wallenda became the first man in history to walk 1,800 feet on a tightrope across the roaring Niagara Falls from the U.S. to the Canadian side of the falls.
In two weeks, his walk across the Grand Canyon will become his highest walk ever. And unlike his much televised traverse on the tightrope across Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon walk will be done in his usual scintillating unharnessed fashion.
This week, The Christian Post sat down with the high wire artist after a media blitz in New York and we talked about life after Niagara Falls, his recently released memoir, Balance, the upcoming event across the Grand Canyon, the role of faith in his life and what he thinks about fear.
Below is an edited version of our conversation.
CP: I think most people today remember you as that guy who walked across Niagara Falls last summer. How significant of a moment was that for you?
Nik: It was significant. It was a dream come true. Anybody who can fulfill a lifelong dream that they've pursued, fourteen wire walkers have pursued that dream for the last 100 years and none of them were granted permission. To be able to get U.S. law changed and the Canadian law changed in order to fulfill a dream is a big deal. So it was very substantial for me, for my family. My family has been doing this for 200 years but to put that name back in the worldwide spotlight is always great for the brand.
CP: Was there ever any doubt in your mind that you would have hit that milestone?
Nik: You know, I live by three words, "never give up." So no, there really wasn't. You know, my wife always says in a flirtatious way, it's frustrating how I am because I believe I can do anything in life. Honestly, if my mind believes I wanted to be the president of the United States, which I have no desire to be, then I could be the president of the United States. It's just the way my mind works. I believe that with persistence and with hard work and with that "never give up" attitude, you can accomplish anything … and with the grace of God.
CP: Your wife and kids were waiting to receive you after the Niagara Falls event, what was the first thing you said to her?
Nik: What are you cooking for dinner tonight (laughs)? I just gave her a hug and she just gave me a kiss and said "I'm proud of you." And then I went straight into media interviews.
CP: Was she scared at any point?
Nik: She's your wife so of course she's nervous. I don't think she was scared but of course nervous, like I think a lot of wives, when their husbands are police officers and they go to work, they get nervous … She (wife) comes from eight generations of circus background so she understands my passion, understands what I do, walks the wire with me also.
CP: How did life change for you after that event?
Nik: It didn't a lot to be honest. I was raised in a family that is pretty well-known. There are four books on my family right now, there has been a two-hour movie, it's aired every year on ABC in most major outlets. I think I'm probably recognized on the street a little more so that's what's changed and I try to remain grounded and that's what a lot of the book's about – me being grounded with my family, with my faith and not letting my ego take over.
CP: June seems like a rather busy month for you. Today (June 4) marks the release of your memoir, Balance, and on June 23, you'll be walking across the Grand Canyon. What inspired you to write a memoir?
Nik: Really it was just a lot of fan mail saying we want to hear your life story. We are so inspired by what you do. We want to hear about you and I had so many different requests for that and it just seemed like the right time.
I always knew I'd write one, I actually thought I would write it at an older age but it just made sense with Niagara Falls happening and so many people being inspired by that and the Grand Canyon coming up, it just seemed like the right thing to do.
CP: What is the biggest takeaway in the book for you?
Nik: You know, whenever you tell a story of your life, you go through the ups and downs and I was very revealing, all of my issues and problems, it almost becomes therapeutic in some ways.
People go to psychiatrists to tell them their problems but here, I writing a book, I'm telling the world these are my issues, these are my problems, this is what makes me human, this is what makes me like you. I'm very unique in what my occupation is but I'm no different than anyone else at the same time. I've got the same problems as everyone. I've got marriage problems, I've have three kids I'm raising, I'm a father, I struggle with egos, balancing all of that stuff out.
CP: What was the writing process like? Did you find it difficult?
Nik: No and I think the reason why is that I've told my story, my family's story most of my life. My first full-page, front of the newspaper photo and article was when I was six. So I've done media my entire life and I've told these stories over and over. Now this digs a little deeper, it touches on my family history but it really digs into my heart and soul.
I'm a storyteller in a lot of ways just by my career. I've told my family story, I've told my story 87 times today alone. So it becomes very natural and very easy and again, it's therapeutic.
CP: How did you decide what to include and what to leave out?
Nik: I really wanted it to be about my life story and about the challenges that I face. So many people write books and they write all the good and none of the bad, none of the ugly. And I really wanted to say look, this is who I am. I've made mistakes.
I again, I have problems with my marriage, I'm human, so I really didn't keep a whole lot out of it.
All my family's books are really about the history of the family and their life but I really wanted to talk a little bit about family history but more about me and this is my life, these are my issues, I hope you are inspired by it.
I hope you realize that because Nik Wallenda, his wife left because she was over him and his ego and his controlling ways but she came back because he realized he has problems, he admitted to the problems, he worked on them. And they're still working every day on their marriage. And I hope that it inspires people. I hope that they learn from it.
CP: Are there any plans to make it into a movie?
Nik: Not at this point but that would be awesome if it turns into a movie, absolutely. At this point there is nothing in the works, I'll put it that way. There's plenty of dreams. But I'm very blessed and most of my dreams come true, so probably (laughs).
CP: How have you been preparing for your walk across the Grand Canyon on June 23?
Nik: Preparing mentally just by putting myself over. I visualize myself crossing the Canyon over and over again. I visualize myself making that first step, quarter of a way, half way, three quarters of a way and then finishing that walk. That's really a lot of the mental prep.
As far as training goes, I train all the time in Florida. Five days a week, I try to be on the wire three to four hours a day. Specific training will start actually on Thursday (June 6) where I'll train on a wire close to the same length but lower to the ground.
During that training, I'm really learning the feel of the cable the move of the cable, building endurance. Really a lot of that is mental though, I could get on a wire right now, not in any arrogant way, but I could get on a wire right now and walk a mile. I have no question. If there was a wire stabilized properly, I could walk a mile. But for this case the wire moves a little bit and it's really about that mental, just convincing myself, just proving to myself that you can still do it. You have enough endurance to do it, instead of walking the full distance.
It's about 1,400 feet. I'll probably walk three times that distance during training. So I'll walk nearly a mile in training. So that I know when I get over that Grand Canyon, I'm ready for it.
We'll also recreate winds, we have air ducts coming out which will blow some wind on me to recreate kind of what I'll experience when I'm out there as well. But again, a lot of that is mental. I've trained in winds up to 90 miles an hour when I've walked the wire before. Sideways, leaning into the wind. But again, in training down low in a safe environment. And really that's all about mentally preparing myself and saying "hey, you've walked at 90 miles an hour this is only 35." It is such a mental game.
CP: Are going to use a harness?
Nik: No. Niagara Falls was just a one-time requirement.
CP: Do you ever get scared?
Nik: Fear is a choice. It's funny, I say this all the time, "fear is a choice but danger is real." Now Will Smith is using it in his movie and I don't think he took it from me but I've said it for a long time. But it's very true. You could walk into a haunted house and go, "I'm gonna be scared to death this is creepy," or you could walk in and go, "this is nothing but gimmicks. These people are paid to scare me. Who cares?"
But it's all in your mental state. I don't fear what I do, I respect what I do. When I walk up to the edge of a 10-story building and look over the edge, my heart jumps and goes, "it's a long way down, that's dangerous." I don't shake, I don't get "it's debilitating," it's not like I grab unto the edge and hold on, but I respect the fact that what I do is very dangerous and it takes a lot of training, a lot of prep work for it.
CP: So you train not to look down?
Nik: I look down all the time.
CP: Do you get vertigo?
Nik: No, that wouldn't be a good thing.
CP: What do you think about when you are performing?
Nik: You know it's pretty peaceful. There's nothing. All your troubles in the world go away. You know, if I was in an argument with my wife that day and I got on the wire, I don't think about that argument that day from when I step on, to when I step off. Now as soon as I step off, I think about it again. But when you're on that wire, you are so focused on what you're doing.
Often, I talk to God while I'm on the wire. I find that peaceful and relaxing and He's the only one up there listening to me.
CP: Some sports players have been known to play when they are sick, have you ever performed sick?
Nik: What I do, there is no backup, there's no extras. I can't call in my extra and say "you gotta fill in for me today." I performed on Ringling Brothers for about two years straight. I performed in about 90 cities in two years. There was a time where I was performing, I was performing on something called the wheel of steel or the wheel of death, it's basically a giant wheel that I stand in with a partner and it goes up 40 feet and comes back down close to the ground, about two feet away from the ground. We do somersaults over each other, walk inside, jump rope, everything you could imagine.
There was a show where we got to the bottom and I said, "I'll be right back" and I jumped off, I went to the bottom and I puked. I ran back, jumped on the wheel and the audience never knew what happened.
I fractured my ankle at the intermission of a performance and held a seven person pyramid for two weeks after that. When your picture is on the poster, if you're going to see David Copperfield perform a magic show and somebody else shows up it doesn't work.
CP: What role does your faith play in your performance?
Nik: My faith plays a role in my performance because it rolls out of my life. It is my life. My life is based on my faith. I guess the biggest role that it plays is that if I do fall and die I know where I'm going.
People often ask, "are you testing God?"
My answer is "absolutely not." 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.
Some of the greatest Christians, if there is such a thing, I've seen those people in several occasions, lose their life in a car accident and other situations and I don't believe that's because God didn't care about them or didn't love them. But that's because we all have our own choices.
We make the choice to get into the car to drive there that day. God gave us a choice. We have a choice whether we want to serve God, or love God, fear God or not. That's our decision.
It's my decision whether I want to get on that wire or not. And again, I don't think God keeps me up there but I definitely know where I'm going if I fall.