“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 makes a strange kind of sense but 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 twenty years.
On June 15th, 33 year-old Wallenda, the self-proclaimed “King of the High Wire,” will realize his childhood ambition, making the 1,550 feet/472 meter walk from Goat Island on the U.S. side to Table Rock on the Canadian side on a two-inch/five centimeter wire suspended 173 feet/53 meters above the churning waters of Niagara Falls.
Enormous crowds are expected to gather on both sides of the U.S./Canadian border to witness the crossing and local businesses, hotels and restaurants are anticipating that live television coverage of the event will generate up $120 million in revenue for the Niagara region.
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 1200 ft/365 meter-long 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 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 enroute. 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 15th that distinction will belong to Nik Wallenda alone.
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.