Friends: Wallenda on life
BY TOM KNAPP, Staff Writer
"Are you nuts?"
Nik Wallenda, whose appearance Sunday morning at the Worship Center was staged as a casual question-and-answer session before some 1,200 people, receives an easy one to get the ball rolling.
"Yes," he replies.
Wallenda is the seventh generation of The Flying Wallendas, a family that, for more than 100 years, has amazed audiences with feats of acrobatics and daring on the tightrope.
On June 15, 2012, he crossed the gorge at Niagara Falls on a wire the diameter of a tennis ball and a third of a mile long.
If that wasn't enough, he plans to cross the Grand Canyon on a wire on June 23.
"It's an awesome life," Wallenda, dressed in a baby-blue shirt, jeans and white sneakers, tells Tim Keller, the Worship Center's director of operations and development, during a 30-minute Q&A -- one of three appearances at the Worship Center held over the weekend.
It's also a scary life. The Wallenda family over the years has lost six members to accidents during stunts.
Wallenda says there's "something in us" that makes them do what they do.
"Those are the three words I live by -- never give up," he says. "Once I'm on that wire, that's when I know it all pays off."
Born in Sarasota, Fla., Wallenda spent much of his childhood on the road, living in a cramped RV.
"We had no choice but to be a close family," he says.
He started walking on low wires when he was 2, he says. By 4, he could do it without his mother holding his hand.
He's familiar with the Lancaster County area, he notes -- his family performed at the York Fair, he explains, and they stayed with friends in Mount Joy.
"I would farm," he says. "I would jump on the tractor. That's where I learned to drive, actually."
The pungent aroma of cow country is refreshing, Wallenda adds.
"I love that smell," he says. "It brings back such great memories, as ironic as that is."
He first visited Niagara Falls at age 6, he recalls, "and I stood there on the edge of the gorge and thought, 'How amazing would it be to walk the whole way across, from the United States to Canada?' ... It was a dream of mine, but it wasn't an easy dream to accomplish."
Because of the many fatal accidents there over the years -- a few involving tightrope walkers, but mostly people who went over the falls in a barrel -- there were laws in both countries forbidding stunts of any kind.
Getting permission was a tough legal battle, he says. In fact, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed reluctantly -- apparently convinced the Canadian government would forbid it.
The high-wire artist credits God with clearing the way for his exploits.
"He knew He was going to get the glory, that it's about Him," Wallenda says. "He's given me this amazing talent, and I want to use it to honor Him."
In fact, while crossing the gorge, Wallenda kept two conversations going through his earpiece. One was with his father, Terry Troffer (the Wallenda name comes to Nik through his mother, Delilah), who is his coach and a soothing influence.
"I also was talking to Jesus," he says.
"It's not about Nik Wallenda. It's about God and this talent that He's given me. ... He's led me on an amazing journey, for sure."
ABC required Wallenda to use a safety harness at Niagara -- he says a fake fall while walking in Baltimore's Inner Harbor a few weeks prior, staged to add tension to the stunt, gave studio executives butterflies.
He plans to cross the Grand Canyon untethered, without safeties.
Far from feeling more secure, he says, a harness "is something I'm very uncomfortable with."
His advice to anyone facing a tough road is to trust in faith.
"God's ways are not our ways. He knows the beginning and the end," Wallenda says.
"Even though there's troubles in the world -- don't focus on that. Focus on Jesus Christ, and you will achieve your dreams."
His advice for budding aerialists and tightrope walkers is simpler: "Don't look down."
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