HOTEL — June 4, 2012 at 7:30 am

Return of the Daredevil

by

Feel as if you’re having trouble finding balance in your life? Try trading places with Nik Wallenda.

On June 15, Wallenda, the 33-year old Florida stuntman will saunter across the Niagara gorge, from the U.S. to the Canadian side, balancing on a two-inch wide tightrope. Although there have been other tightrope walkers who’ve challenged Niagara, none have gone straight across the span from the U.S. to Canada at the height Nik has chosen. Is he nuts? Believe it or not…no. When I interviewed him a couple of weeks ago, Nik seemed not only quite sane, but also surprisingly low-key.

Calm and soft-spoken, he didn’t seem any more revved about his plan than I would if I were heading to Toronto for a day of shopping.
Turns out the tightropes he generally uses are just 5/8 of an inch wide.
“This feels like walking on the sidewalk,” he told me.

Right.
The fact that he’s so fit his muscles ripple from his neck to his toes, and given that he’s the seventh generation of the famous Wallenda family of traveling circus performers, Nik’s plan seemed almost…well…doable. After all, he’s lived his life with daredevils and made higher and longer crossings in the past. A consummate professional athlete, when I spoke with him, Nik had already spent a week, training in the Seneca Niagara Casino parking lot, walking a long tightrope stretched above an empty parking lot. To simulate the gusts and mist he expects to encounter over the Falls, a wind machine was brought in and Nik hired the local fire department to spray him. If forewarned is forearmed, Nik might have thought he was ready for anything but…The unpredictability of the conditions over the Falls worried the powers that be at ABC, the network that has sole rights to film Nik’s epic stroll and will broadcast the stunt live, as the finale of a three-hour special on stunting.

In addition to the wind, spray, and normal swaying of the tightrope, another threat to Nik’s safety had appeared. Local birders came forward to warn of the possibility of peregrine falcon attacks. Seems that baby birds are now in nests around the Niagara gorge and mama falcons might see Nik as a threat – and dive-bomb him. If you’ve ever seen the beak on a peregrine falcon, or witnessed one tearing a hapless pigeon to pieces in mid-air, you’ll understand ABC’s concern.

Even in this high-tech age of unfettered access to information, there apparently are limits and ABC’s executives decided television viewers shouldn’t witness something so potentially horrific. They decreed – much to Nik’s disappointment – that the famous stuntman would wear a harness, attaching him to the tightrope.

Some will tell you they feel that the excitement’s been leached from the stunt – that knowing Nik can’t actually fall to his death has somehow taken the fun out of the whole thing. (These people, presumably, are the same charmers who slow down on the highway when there’s an accident, and crane their nasty necks to see if there’s anything – or anyone – really bloody on the pavement.) For my part, I breathed a whole lot easier when I heard about Nik’s harness. I liked Nik and don’t even want to imagine the horror of watching something happen to him – or anyone else, for that matter. (Nope. Though I confess there are a couple of people I can think of who’d benefit greatly from being dangled over the gorge for a bit, I’m sure I’d never actually drop them in. At least, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t. At least not if ABC was filming.)

At the risk of getting a bit airy-fairy, finding balance in our own lives when times are tough can feel a bit like walking a tightrope over the Falls. We think we’ve anticipated every possible challenge and then…along might come a dive-bombing peregrine falcon to knock us right off the wire. That’s why we need our own personal safety harnesses, in the form of our family and friends, to help us maintain our balance and keep us from plunging into abyss. Our balancing act is no less breathtaking and our achievements no less impressive for recognizing that in a life filled with the unpredictable, we all need to be tethered to something.