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People Top 5
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- June 10, 2013
- Vol. 79
- No. 23
Nik Wallenda: Living the High Life
The Seventh-Generation High-Wire Artist Is Ready for His Most Stunning Feat Yet: a Harness-Free Walk Over the Grand Canyon
For now he'll settle for tackling one of Earth's greatest wonders. On June 23 the "king of the high wire," 34, will make his way across a 1,400-ft.-long stretch of the Grand Canyon on a 2-in. steel cable, suspended 1,500 ft. above the Colorado River in a stunt to air live on Discovery Channel. Unlike his much-viewed walk across Niagara Falls last summer - during which ABC required him to wear a safety harness - this time Wallenda will cross with just a 40-lb. pole. "Part of my Niagara dream was taken away because I had to wear a tether," he says. "This one will be done the way I want to do it: just me and Mother Nature."
To prepare, Wallenda has been training in his hometown of Sarasota, Fla., where airboat fans simulate the wind gusts he might experience. During training, "I put my mind over the Grand Canyon," says the father of three, whose wife of 13 years, Erendira, 31, is herself an eighth-generation performer. "When I actually do the walk, it's the opposite. I'll say, 'This is the same as training. You've done this a million times.' "
Maybe even more: At an age when most kids are learning to toddle, Wallenda was testing his balance atop the wire in the backyard where his parents, both wire walkers, honed their craft. The legacy of his great-grandfather Karl Wallenda, a famed acrobat who plunged off a wire to his death in 1978 (four other family members have died while performing), is his inspiration. "I think of him on every walk I do," he says. But unlike Karl, who had long stated that the wire was "how he wanted to go," says Wallenda, "I don't have a death wish. I'm a lot safer than people think." Erendira admits she's "nervous. But as a performer, I'm totally inspired." And if their kids opt to enter the family business? "They have my blessing," says Wallenda. "I want them to fulfill whatever their hearts desire."
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