Sun, Jun 17, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Wallenda exuberant after walk across Niagara Falls

AP, NIAGARA FALLS, ONTARIO

Nik Wallenda walks the high wire from the US side to the Canadian side over the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Canada, on Friday.

Photo: Reuters

Daredevil Nik Wallenda became the first person to walk on a tightrope across the Niagara Falls, taking steady, measured steps on Friday night for 548.6m across the mist-fogged brink of the roaring falls separating the US and Canada.

“I feel like I’m on cloud nine right now,” an exuberant Wallenda told reporters after accomplishing what he said was his childhood dream before an estimated 112,000 people crowding the shores of both countries and millions more who watched a live TV broadcast.

He described wind “coming from every which way,” mist so powerful he had to blink it away to maintain his vision and a breathtaking view during the nighttime walk illuminated by spotlights that “compared to nothing.”

“There was no way to focus on the movement of the cable,” said Wallenda, 33. “If I looked down at the cable there was water moving everywhere. And if I looked up there was heavy mist blowing in front of my face. So it was a very unique, a weird sensation.”

He said he accomplished the feat through “a lot of praying, that’s for sure, but, you know, it’s all about the concentration, the focus and the training.”

The seventh-generation member of the famed Flying Wallendas had long dreamed of pulling off the stunt, never before attempted. Other daredevils have wire-walked over the Niagara River, but farther downstream and not since 1896.

“This is what dreams are made of, people,” said Wallenda, who wore a microphone for the broadcast, shortly after he stepped off from a platform on the US shore.

Along the way, he calmly prayed aloud.

After passing the halfway mark, Wallenda expressed fatigue.

“I’m strained, I’m drained,” he said. “This is so physical, not only mental, but physical.”

Toward the end, as he neared the Canadian shore, Wallenda dropped to one knee and pumped his fist while the spectators cheered. He broke into a playful run about 4.6m from the finish line, where his wife and three children waited.

“I am so blessed,” he said later. “How blessed I am to have the life that I have.”

ABC televised the walk and insisted Wallenda use a tether to keep him from falling in the river. Wallenda said he agreed because he was not willing to lose the chance to perform the walk it took him well over a year to win permission from two countries to do. Such stunts are normally illegal. ABC’s sponsorship helped offset some of the US$1.3 million cost of the spectacle.

Wallenda said he thought about the tether, which was secured at his waist and dragged behind him, at several points along the 30 minute walk, but was not hindered by it as he had feared.

“Awesome! The whole thing is awesome,” eight-year-old William Clements of Dresden, Ontario, said after watching the walk with his family from the Canadian side, adding he would not want to walk “even over something not high.”

“He was meant to do it. The weather was perfect,” Glenda Rutherford of Ontario said. “It was amazing.”

For Wallenda, who has grown up on the high wire and holds six Guinness records for various stunts, the Niagara Falls walk was unlike anything he had ever done. Because it was over water, the 5cm wire did not have the usual stabilizer cables to keep it from swinging. Pendulum anchors were designed to keep it from twisting under the elkskin-soled shoes designed by his mother.

The Wallendas trace their roots to 1780 Austria-Hungary, when ancestors traveled as a band of acrobats, aerialists, jugglers, animal trainers and trapeze artists. The clan has been touched by tragedy, notably in 1978, when patriarch Karl Wallenda, Nik’s great-grandfather, fell to his death during a stunt in Puerto Rico.

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