Daredevil High-Wired For Success Over Niagara Falls

Jun 16, 2012
Originally published on June 16, 2012 2:22 pm

Daredevil Nik Wallenda became the first person to walk directly over Niagara Falls on Friday night. More than 100,000 people crowded onto the U.S.-Canadian border to watch him inch along a tightrope.

Wallenda's wire weighed seven tons and took hours to string across the falls with a helicopter. Crews held it in place with two construction cranes.

Wallenda is part of the famous "Flying Wallendas" circus family. Over seven generations, they've pulled off daring stunts all over the world.

But Wallenda told reporters walking an 1,800-foot cable over Niagara Falls tops them all. He's wanted to do it since his first visit to the falls as a 6-year-old.

"That was when the vision came to me to walk across Niagara Falls," he said. "Of course, I didn't know the history at that point that no one had ever walked directly over Niagara Falls, but we're about to change that."

'This Is Crazy'

Officials in Niagara Falls, N.Y., had a lot of hope riding on the event. They wanted it to spark a return to the city's glory days, when crowds flocked to see daredevils while enjoying a carnival-like atmosphere.

Before Wallenda's walk, performers lined the streets downtown. Acrobat Ashley Vita Verde stood by a sign reading, "Wallenda's Side Show." Among the entertainers were contortionists, fire performers and clowns.

As it got dark Friday, thousands jockeyed to secure a spot near the tightrope. Ernest Groening came all the way from Switzerland. After watching the Niagara River crash over the falls on the rocks below, Groening was worried for Wallenda's safety.

"For my part, I think it's crazy," he said, "but people like to do crazy things."

Around 10:15 p.m. ET, Wallenda stepped on his 2-inch-thick cable that was dripping wet from the mist. He wore a waterproof jumpsuit, elk skin shoes his mother made and a safety harness. Onlooker Gary Neal was disappointed.

"I reckon I could do it myself with a safety harness," he laughed. "That takes the excitement away for me."

The tether was the result of a last-minute negotiation with ABC, which sponsored the event.

Moving slowly, Wallenda carried a 40-pound pole to help him balance. People watching the ABC exclusive "High-Wire Over Niagara Falls" could hear him praying and describing his fatigue.

"I'm strained. I'm drained. This is so physical. Fighting that wind isn't easy. My hands actually at this point feel like they're going numb," he said.

Back on the ground, Cody Cliveeter tried to peer through the mist to cheer Wallenda on.

"It takes a lot of talent, and he's sure got it. I can't believe it. I cannot believe what I'm watching," he said.

Setting The Record

As Wallenda approached Canada, he sprinted the last few feet of the wire and then presented his passport to customs officials.

Linda Marshall lingered around, reliving the moment.

"He made it look too easy! You kind of wanted to see a little wobble or something to make it seem riskier than it was," she said.

After years of planning, Wallenda says he's happy to join the ranks of famous Niagara Falls daredevils.

"It's as real as it gets now, isn't it? There's no turning back. It's done. It's official. It's in the history books," he said.

But Wallenda says he's not done making history yet. He's already secured permits to become the first person to walk a tightrope across the Grand Canyon.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Nik Wallenda walked over wire into the history last night. He became the first person to walk over directly over Niagara Falls. As Daniel Robison reports, more than 100,000 crowded on to U.S.-Canadian border to watch him inch along a tightrope.

DAN ROBISON, BYLINE: I'm standing below Nik Wallenda's wire. It weighs seven tons and took hours to string over Niagara Falls with a helicopter. Crews are holding it in place with two construction cranes. Meanwhile, Wallenda tells his fans that he can't wait to get up there.

NIK WALLENDA: I'd love to get out there right now and test it out if I could.

ROBISON: Wallenda is part of the famous "Flying Wallendas" circus family. Over seven generations they've pulled off daring stunts all over the world. But Nik Wallenda told reporters that walking an 1,800 foot cable over Niagara Falls tops them all. He's wanted to do it since his first visit to the falls as a 6-year-old.

WALLENDA: That was when the vision came to me to walk across Niagara Falls. Of course, I didn't know the history at that point, that no one had ever walked directly over Niagara Falls. But we're about the change that.

ROBISON: Officials in Niagara Falls, New York had a lot of hope riding on the event. They wanted it to spark a return to the city's glory days, when crowds flocked to see daredevils while enjoying a carnival-like atmosphere.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARNIVAL MUSIC)

ROBISON: Before Wallenda's walk, performers lined the streets downtown. Acrobat Ashley Vita Verde stood by a sign reading: Wallenda's Side Show.

ASHLEY VITA VERDE: We have contortionists, we have martial artist trickers, we have caballeros. Later tonight we have the fire performers.

ROBISON: As it got dark Friday, thousands jockeyed to secure a spot near the tightrope. Ernest Groening came from way from Switzerland. After watching the Niagara River crash over the falls on the rocks below, Groening was worried for Wallenda's safety.

ERNEST GROENING: For my part, I think it's crazy. But people like to do crazy things.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)

ROBISON: Late last night, Wallenda stepped on his two-inch thick cable that was dripping wet from the mist.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He's doing it. Holy smokes.

ROBISON: He wore a waterproof jumpsuit, elk skin shoes his mother made - and a safety harness. Onlooker Gary Neal was disappointed.

GARY NEAL: I reckon I could do it myself with a safety harness. That takes the excitement away for me.

ROBISON: Moving slowly, Wallenda carried a 40-pound pole to help him balance. People watching the ABC exclusive "Highwire Over Niagara Falls" could hear him praying and describing his fatigue.

WALLENDA: I'm strained. I'm drained. You know, this is so physical. Fighting that wind isn't easy. And my hands actually at this point feel like they're going numb.

ROBISON: Back on the ground, Cody Cliveeter tried to peer through the mist to cheer Wallenda on.

CODY CLIVEETER: It takes a lot of talent and he's sure got it. I can't believe it. I cannot believe what I'm watching.

ROBISON: As Wallenda approached Canada, he sprinted the last few feet of the wire and then presented his passport to customs officials. Linda Marshall lingered around and relived the moment.

LINDA MARSHALL: He made it look too easy. You kind of wanted to see a little wobble or something to make it look a little riskier than it was.

ROBISON: After years of planning, Wallenda says he's happy to join the ranks of famous Niagara Falls daredevils.

WALLENDA: It's as real as it gets now, isn't it? There's no turning back. It's done. It's official. It's in the history books.

ROBISON: But Wallenda says he's not done making history yet. He's already secured permits to become the first person to walk a tightrope across the Grand Canyon. For NPR News, I'm Daniel Robison in Buffalo, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.