Nik Wallenda has walked across Niagara Falls. And between two Chicago skyscrapers. Watching him attempt these feats on live TV is nerve-wracking — imagine what he’s going through. When the winds were blowing at 43 m.p.h. as he crossed the Little Colorado River gorge near the Grand Canyon, he admits it was “very intimidating,” but nothing really seems to faze Wallenda, 40.
The tethered tightrope walker will achieve one of his lifelong dreams and walk a 1,300-foot cable 25 stories above Times Square without a safety net in a live special on ABC Sunday night at 8 p.m. That’s five city blocks, from 1 Times Square to 2 Times Square. Holding a balancing pole that measures 30 feet long and weighs 30 pounds, he will start at one end, walking downhill; his sister Lijana will start at the other, walking uphill. “It’s more uncomfortable to walk downhill,” Wallenda says.
They will meet in the middle, in front of the Viacom building at 1515 Broadway. “She’ll sit down on the wire. And I will step over her and we’ll change places,” Wallenda says. “After I step over her, she’ll get back up and continue walking.”
It’s a miracle that Lijana, 42, is attempting a feat of this magnitude at all. In 2017, she suffered a near-fatal accident in Florida which left her and several members of the Wallenda family severely injured. “She broke every bone in her face,” Wallenda says. “She has 73 screws in her face alone. She still has pain in her heel. This is something she almost feels that she has to do. I think people will be inspired just to see her get back on the wire. Just to move on with life.”
Death is something the family, known as The Flying Wallendas, has faced before. Wallenda’s great-grandfather, Karl, died at age 73 in 1978 while performing a cable wire walk between two 10-story hotel towers in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “When you get kicked off the horse you have to get right back on. We’re not easily defeated,” Wallenda says.
The cable for Sunday night’s event went up Monday night at 11:30 p.m., a process that required Seventh Avenue to be shut down until Wallenda’s crew was done, at 5 a.m. The actual event, hosted by Michael Strahan, will not eat up a lot of air time. “It will take me 16 to 20 minutes to do the walk and 20 to 30 minutes for her,” he says.
The weather, which has been crappy all week, does not affect him. “I’ve heard that the forecast is OK. I try not to check stuff like that because it adds unnecessary stress to my life. Stress can’t change the weather,” he says. “Every day has enough trouble of its own.”
His father, Terry Troffer, will be stationed on the roof of 1 Times Square, relaying messages in Wallenda’s ear throughout the walk. His mother, Delilah Wallenda, will head over to 2 Times Square to do the same with his sister.
Wallenda has been practicing at a park in Sarasota, Fla., where he lives with his family, but admits that New York has “engineering issues and stabilizing issues” relating to local construction sites. “We have a power cable at 1568 Broadway that wasn’t there a week before. The city changes every single day. It becomes very challenging. I have eyes all over the place to make sure the walk is done properly and safely.”
Having performed so many high-wire acts, Wallenda can confidently see retirement on the horzion. “By 55, I’ll be done,” he says. “My mom was about to turn 70 and said, ‘I expect to do a walk with you.’ I think I’ll retire before I get to that age for safety concerns. In 10 years, I’ll be ready to pass the torch. My sons are great wire walkers but the eldest, Yanni, is in the Marines. He’s 21. Amadeos is 18, but he goes into the army on July 5.”