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'King of the High Wire' Nik Wallenda chats about his upcoming Chicago stunts

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long

In 2012, high wire artist Nik Wallenda was the first person to walk across a tightrope directly above Niagara Falls. Last year, he walked across a gorge near the Grand Canyon, 1,500 feet above the ground. On Sunday, the 35-year-old daredevil will attempt his latest feat, crossing an inclined wire that spans the 50-story-high gap between the Marina City towers and the Leo Burnett building. After his first walk, he'll return to Marina City and complete a second walk between the two corncob towers while blindfolded. Spectators are welcome to come watch from the south side of the river as Wallenda begins the first walk at 6pm, but the Discovery Channel will provide a live broadcast of the event for those who would rather watch from the couch. We spoke with the "King of the High Wire" as he was preparing to leave his hometown of Sarasota, Florida, and travel to Chicago.

How did you decide to do a walk in Chicago?
I absolutely love the skyline in Chicago. My sister lived there for about 13 years so I spent a lot of time visiting here, including my time performing with the Ringling Bros. To be honest, anytime I go to a city and spend some time there, I’m always looking up and thinking about what would be a cool walk. When I heard the name “the Windy City,” it felt like a great challenge for a wire walker. Now I’ve done some research and realized that the name is more about politics than actual wind.

How do you plan to spend the day leading up to the walk?
I’ll just spending a day with my family and enjoying Chicago. I am going to the Shedd Aquarium with my kids and we’re going to get a behind-the-scenes tour. My wife is a huge Bowie fan, so we’re looking forward to seeing the exhibit [David Bowie Is...] at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

What are you doing to prepare for the cold temperatures on Sunday?
As you know from living there, you just need to dress a little warmer. The colder conditions don’t really concern me, unless they were to create ice on the cable. We know how Chicago weather can change from day to day, but the forecast looks good—I’m actually pretty excited about it. I’ll have a couple layers—instead of jeans and a shirt I’ll have a windproof pair of pants and a jacket.

What initially attracted you to the Marina City towers?
When I was looking at buildings in Chicago, the first tower that I loved was the Willis Tower. I had them on board—they were, and still are, big supporters of the event. But, I realized that there no buildings nearby that are the same height. I’m a strong believer that, if you can, you should go to the top of a building. I think it would look really goofy if I went halfway up and then came down. Because of that, we decided to look other places. Marina City was always extremely attractive to me because I look at it and I think, “Wow, that was built to put a wire between.”

What inspired you to do a second, blindfolded walk between the Marina City towers?
I still wanted to walk between the Marina City towers, but to simply walk it wouldn’t be too exciting, because I’m doing this amazing incline walk just prior to it. The idea for a blindfolded walk came to me because I was having Lasik surgery and wondered if I could do what I do if I wasn’t able to see. I began to train by closing my eyes and walking on my practice wire. My family would come shake the wire and push my balancing pole, just to see how stable I really was. I currently have eight world records and I’ll have ten after Sunday, but more than anything, I want to push myself to become better at what I do.

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