Wallenda says Willis Tower not suited for high-wire act
BY STEFANO ESPOSITO Staff Reporter April 17, 2014 2:16PM
High-wire walker Nik Wallenda plans to walk a tightrope in Chicago in November. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times
Updated: May 19, 2014 2:18PM
Later this year, Chicagoans will squint skyward and watch as a speck of a man walks between two skyscrapers on a wire not much thicker than a human thumb.
Mindful of the grainy footage showing his great-grandfather wobbling on a high wire, before tumbling to his death, Nik Wallenda will go to extraordinary lengths to prepare.
“I respect deeply what I do,” says the seventh-generation aerialist. “I realize there is a danger in what I do. I never become complacent. It’s all about training and preparation.”
On Thursday, that preparation involved a scouting mission to the city to figure out where to stage a show that’s expected to be broadcast live in some 220 countries.
Wallenda’s announcement earlier this month that he’d walk above Chicago — following successful walks over Niagara Falls and a gorge near the Grand Canyon — has fueled speculation about which iconic landmarks he’d choose.
“We are getting very, very close to finalizing the locations,” said Wallenda, who, with his slicked-back blond hair and bronzed features, brings to mind a World War II flying ace.
Wallenda’s hotel is a stone’s throw from the Willis Tower. A coincidence? Probably.
“The Willis Tower is a no-brainer as far as a dream — of wanting to do it — but is it realistic?” Wallenda said. “Well, not unless we want to spend millions of dollars putting up a tower next to it that’s the same height.”
Ditto for the Trump International Hotel and Tower, which has made-for-TV backdrops — the Chicago River and Lake Michigan — but has no similarly sized skyscraper close by.
Of course for a man in Wallenda’s line of work, the challenge seems relatively minor.
“There’s always a problem and there’s never a problem,” he said. “I live life facing challenges and that’s what my life is all about. Where there’s a will there’s a way.”
After crossing the Grand Canyon gorge untethered, won’t his Chicago performance feel like, well, a cake walk?
“My great-grandfather lost his life doing a walk between two buildings about 100 feet up and about 125 feet across,” Wallenda said, carefully considering the question.
Karl Wallenda fell to his death while trying to walk a cable between two buildings in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1978.
The younger Wallenda will be thinking about his great-grandfather as he prepares to walk over Chicago.
“Everything I do is to shine light on him and pay tribute and respect to him,” Wallenda said.
On the big day, Wallenda will slip on a pair of moccasins with elk-skin bottoms — they grip well in the rain — that his mother makes by hand.
“I say a prayer with my family and give them a hug and a kiss, and say, ‘I’ll see you on the other side,’” Wallenda said.