Everyone knows Nik Wallenda, that guy who walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon on television. The guy who’s upping his game this weekend by not only walking on a 16 degree incline in The Windy City, but is then following up his own stunt by doing another Chicago walk, blindfolded.
But did you know that the dude has a long-standing history of performing such stunts? Did you know that he’s a massive record holder (Eight Guinness World Records to date)? Or that he’s deeply religious?
We’ll bet you didn’t know all 17 of these random facts:
1. His family is like the real-life version of Robin’s family.
Except in this case, they’re all wire walkers instead of acrobats. “I have 15 family members that currently walk the wire, including my three kids,” he reveals.
2. His great-grandfather, Karl Wallenda, died walking the wire in 1978 — a year before Nik was born.
“He was a huge inspiration, is a huge inspiration in my life, probably the biggest,” Wallenda says. “I do everything I do because of him. He’s the one who paved the road for me to able to do what I do.”
Nik and his mother Delilah recreated Karl’s final walk in commemoration of the man in 2011.
4. He can physically hold onto the wire for up to 20 minutes.
When Karl fell, he was 73 years-old. According to Nik the death had nothing to do with winds or balance, and everything to do with Karl not being strong enough to hold on. And so, he trains accordingly.
There are also personnel on either side of the rope that can get to Wallenda between 60 and 90 seconds if anything were to happen.
5. Wallenda picked Chicago for his next walk simply because of its moniker.
“I enjoy pushing myself to the next level, and the Windy City title was just extremely attractive to me,” he reveals.
6. Even though some say he’s a daredevil, he does have limits.
Although Wallenda trains in winds that range from 70-90 miles an hour (and he’s even walked in winds gusting around 120 miles an hour), we won’t see any of that on Sunday night.
“If the winds were to exceed 50 miles an hour, I would not step foot on that wire,” he says. “We would hold off until the wind speeds would settle down some.”
7. He’s walked the wire since he was two years old.
“I definitely know how to walk the wire; I’m very comfortable in somewhat extreme conditions,” he says.
8. The idea of walking blindfolded came to Wallenda after he had Lasik surgery.
He stared wearing contacts when he was 14, but decided to have the procedure after his Grand Canyon Gorge walk made them dry and dusty.
9. His great aunt, Angel Wallenda, walked the wire on a prosthetic leg.
When cancer forced the performer to have her right leg amputated below the knee, she continued walking with a prosthetic until the disease took her life in 1996. She was 28 years old.
10. Nik might be the last walker of his lineage.
“None of my kids show any interest in carrying it on, but they all are very good on the wire,” Wallenda says. “At this point they’re all saying they want to go to college and go in a different direction and as a father, I am extremely supportive of that and proud of them for making their own decisions.”
The performer adds that his parents actually encouraged him to go in another direction with his life, but at the end of day the wire came calling.
11. There have been many family tragedies.
“I had a great uncle, Gunther, who was there when the seven person pyramid fell in 1962 in Detroit; and when that pyramid fell, he was the only one that remained standing on the wire,” Wallenda recalls. “He saw two family members fall to their death and one paralyzed. He went back about three months later and they started rehearsing that again in Florida down low about ten feet off the ground. As they were rehearsing, the wire slipped and everybody fell off, including himself. He hit his jaw on the wire and knocked out all of his teeth. And at that point he said, ‘I’m never going to it again,’ and he moved on and became a schoolteacher.”
12. He won’t do this forever.
“There is a time to retire,” Wallenda admits. “At 45 or 50 I plan on moving on, which is actually young for our industry. But moving on and hopefully passing it on to either the next generation, not necessarily my kids. ”
13. He goes the distance before he goes the distance.
In order to make sure that he can make the walk on the day of, Wallenda practises endurance. He’ll put extra weight on his balance pole, bring in wind machines and even go three times the distance, just to be as thoroughly prepared as possible.
14. He works out. A lot.
In addition to actually practising, Wallenda does about an hour a day of cardio exercise at the gym, trains with weights, and then spends four-to-five hours a day on the high wire.
15. He is entirely non-superstitious.
Even though Wallenda likens his “game day” to that of an athlete’s, he shares none of their superstitions.
“It really comes down to my faith and really training. It’s all about meditating and preparing properly mentally for what I do,” he says. “Believe it or not at this point in my career because I’ve walked the wire so long, it’s more mental than physical; and I have to keep control of my thoughts and my mind even leading up to the event.”
16. He still gets scared.
“I’ve done these things that no one in the world has ever done and all at great heights. When I walk to the edge of a 10-story building even to look over the edge, my heart starts to beat a little bit,” he admits. “I call that fear respect. I respect the fact that if I go over that edge, I could lose my life. I could get injured, I could get hurt.”
17. He almost spent his entire life doing something else.
Before Nik Wallenda became a household name, he bussed tables, was a general manager of a restaurant and came this close to going to school to become a pediatrician. Since then he’s thought a lot about heading back to school to get his medical degree, and he currently owns several businesses and travels as a motivational speaker. As for a future career, however, nobody knows.
“I see the wire walking as being my life,” he says. “The other ones are my job.”
Tune into Skyscraper Live on Sunday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. ET on Discovery Canada.