NEW YORK — Just over two years ago famed Christian high-wire artist and acrobat Nik Wallenda struggled with fear about his job for the first time in his high-flying career.
During a rehearsal for a dramatic eight-person pyramid in Sarasota, Florida, something went horribly wrong and five of the eight high-wire artists, including his sister Lijana, went tumbling more than 20 feet in February 2017.
Of the three performers who suffered broken bones from the fall, Lijana suffered the worst.
“I broke a rib, punctured my right ear canal, broke clear through my left humerus, I broke my left calcareous. But the big one was every bone in my face,” she told ABC in a recent interview.
On Thursday morning, however, less than 72 hours before he walks a 1,300-foot tightrope 25 stories above Times Square on Sunday, which will be broadcast live on ABC at 8 p.m. ET, Wallenda revealed to The Christian Post how fear almost prevented him from ever performing another stunt again after the fall.
“It sort of happened twice. The first time it happened was in the hospital as we were not sure [of] the five that had fallen, who was gonna survive and who wasn’t. The doctors say statistics say that two in five people that fall from over 40 feet, they are fatal accidents,” Wallenda, who arrived in the city on Sunday to prepare for the event, recalled. “Therefore, if the statistics were against us two of the five would have passed away that day. So it’s a miracle that they all lived. So sitting in the hospital not knowing all of this, was the first time I thought of it.”
Fear struck again several months later when Wallenda, who previously walked across Niagara Falls in 2012, and the Little Colorado River Gorge near the Grand Canyon in 2013, thought of calling it quits.
“About six months later, I’d taken a couple months off and came back to the wire and was training to recreate the seven person pyramid in a very similar setting where the accident happened. My peripheral vision from my location in the pyramid is identical to the eight-person pyramid and I started experiencing extreme fear to be honest … to the point where I was trembling and shaking,” Wallenda remembered.
“I went to my wife and said, 'I don’t think I can do this anymore.' And I continued to practice for about three or four more days and one of the guys that perform with me, came up to me and said ‘something is wrong with you. You’re not who we know. You’re not the Nik we’ve always looked up to. You’re not the Nik that’s always preached ‘never give up.’ What’s wrong? You need to snap out of it,’” he continued.
Wallenda said he quickly recognized that his longtime teammate was right. So he started pushing back against the fear and negativity that was clogging his mind with more positive thinking.
“I just consider it like a weed growing in your garden. If you don’t pull the weed out, it will take over your garden. And that’s the thing with negativity. So I just started countering that negativity, those thoughts of fear with, ‘I’ve got this. I’ll be safe. I know what I’m doing, I’ve trained. I was made for this.’ And sort of worked through it that way,” he explained.
Wallenda’s battle with fear was so significant he is now working on a book to overcome it “because my hopes are, with my experience, what I went through, will help others,” he said.
Walking in Faith
Positive thinking wasn’t the only factor that helped Wallenda in his comeback. His faith, he said, played a significant role in helping him defeat his fear.
“It’s always been a huge role in my life. … My faith is who I am. So whether it’s on the wire or off the wire it’s where I find my peace and again, it is who I am. It’s not what I believe in. It’s not anything other than my being,” he said.
“People often ask why I walk the wire and again, that’s what I do. It’s what I’ve done my entire life, I don’t know anything else. To me that is normal. And that’s the thing with my faith. It is that real to me. It is that personal relationship. It is where I find my peace when I’m on that wire. In fact, in my inner ear I have music playing in the background which is worship music just because it keeps me calm. I love worshiping. . it keeps me peaceful when I’m on that wire,” he said.
Among his favorite bands to listen to, he said, are worship bands Bethel and Hillsong. He also has a helpful list of other artists that he has curated in a Spotify playlist.
The Times Square Walk
On Thursday, as he waited for Lijana to join him in New York City, Wallenda acknowledged that walking on a tightrope across Times Square won’t be easy.
He will be walking between 1 Times Square, located at the south end of the open area of Times Square at 42nd Street, and 2 Times Square, just north of the TKTS booth at 47th Street. The distance is about 1,300 feet, or about a quarter of a mile. Wallenda will start at one end and Lijana will start at the other. They are expected to meet in the middle, cross then continue to the opposite end from where they started.
“This walk will be challenging both mentally and physically just because of the fact that my sister is a part of it. I’ll be very concerned for her and also just the distractions of Times Square are somewhat overwhelming just to imagine standing above these giant LED walls and tens of thousands of people and traffic moving in the background and police sirens and lights. All those distractions are again, it is very intimidating just conceptualizing that walk,” he said.
Despite the challenge of the walk, Wallenda says he wants to complete the never-been-done-before feat to continue the legacy of his daredevil family who performed for the very first time in America in 1928 in the iconic Madison Square Garden.
“I’ve had the honor of performing back there as well with my wife in 2007, but always wanted to do something major in this city to sort of leave my fingerprint here, if you will, and continue that legacy for generations to come,” he explained.
“We all go through the mountains and the valleys, right? And we’ve had some valleys lately and we always come out victorious on top of that mountain, and that’s one thing me and my sister do. We’re about to end up back on the top of that mountain, so it’s very exciting the fact that on Sunday that we will be at a point where my sister is gonna prove to herself as much as anyone else that she can get back on that wire in front of an audience and take on this amazing task,” he added.
“This has been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and just to pay respect to my ancestors. So to finally be here at a point where it’s gonna happen is somewhat surreal, but it’s about to become real, real soon,” he said.
He further noted that he and his sister have strong family support. If his father, he said, didn’t believe Lijana was ready for a comeback he would never allow her to do the walk.
“It’s extremely important that my parents are supportive. They have done this before me of course, and paved this road for me to get to where I am. So it’s very important that I have their support and that they believe in my ability as well as my sister’s. You know, if my dad came tomorrow and said, ‘Hey, I don’t feel like your sister is ready.’ She wouldn’t be walking. It’s just the reality. So it’s vital, in fact. That’s how important it is,” he said.
So come Sunday, says Wallenda, he’ll do what he’s always done before every big feat. Pray with close friends and family, then just walking in faith.