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, who plans to do a high-wire walk in Chicago later this year, was in the city Thursday to scout locations and discuss the attempt. Wallenda also has walked over part of the Niagara Falls and across the Grand Canyon. | Michael
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.