Nik Wallenda, another celebrity who does not hide his faith in God, prayed aloud Friday as he negotiated the wire stretched before him as he made his dangerous but historic walk across Niagara Falls.
Nearing the finish line, he did a “Tebow,” dropping to one knee on the wire, 180 feet up, to silently thank God and pump his fist in victory to the thousands of people watching from both sides of the Falls and the millions watching throughout the world.
He then stood up and quickened his step toward the finish to the applause and cheers of the crowds below and into the arms of his wife, Erendira, and his three children.
The walk was hairy at times as curious birds circled around him and seemed to be buzzing him. Plus, the rushing water below him was not only distracting but could have garbled his inward perception.
When his great grandfather, Karl Wallenda, performed with his troupe in Montreal, the section of the arena floor where the high-wire was set up was slanted. That interfered with his clear perception, a perception which is vital for safety.
“Dis is drivink me crazy,” he told me. Nik Wallenda faced even more distractions.
Battling wind, sweeping rain and a slippery, swaying wire, Nik Wallenda said he was losing strength and his hands were going numb. This was chilling to those who know the family’s history. The comments evoked horrible memories of January 31,1962 in Detroit when the family attempted a seven-person pyramid. Some members of the family had just come in from Europe for the show and were already tired that day.
Dieter Schepp, who was placed at the front of the seven-high pyramid, began losing his strength. He tried to briefly toss up the balancing pole in order to re-grasp it and get a tighter grip. This caused him to lose his balance and when the pole returned to his hands, he toppled from the wire taking the entire troupe with him. A performance tragedy that killed two members of the family, paralyzed Mario Wallenda, who would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, and the others, including Karl Wallenda, were severely injured.
Nik Wallenda, who was fitted with a mic, prayed protection from God through Jesus Christ. Through it all he remained incredibly calm and poised.
Another distracting factor Friday was that he was required by both countries, the U.S. and Canada, to wear a safety harness dragging behind him that would keep him attached to the wire should he fall. He had never used a safety device, nor his family.
New York State once made a law that a safety net must always be in place for all aerial circus acts. Karl Wallenda said that a safety net would be of no use. Instead of being able to fall in different directions with a possibility of survival, the safety net would contain and plunge them all on top of each other. He then told me that in Europe, a member of the troupe fell, bounced out of the required net and was impaled on a stake.
From Montreal the circus would fly to New York. Karl Wallenda then said, “To my knowledge dere vill be no safety net under dot airplane. Vat good vould it do?”
He made a good point.
When Nik Wallenda was asked by an ABC reporter what his next project would be, he answered with three words: “The Grand Canyon.”
Extra note: The erroneous moniker the Flying Wallendas attached to the troupe in the 1940s when a family member fell. She came down so gracefully that she appeared to be flying, and a reporter referred to the troupe as The Flying Wallendas. The name stuck, even though that would only apply to flying trapeze acts. The Patriarch of the family, Karl Wallenda, was killed by a fall from the wire in Contado Plaza, San Juan, Puerto Rico, on March 22, 1978.
Rev. Austin Miles spent his early life as a high profile circus ringmaster was closely associated with the Wallenda family for more than 20 years.