Nik Wallenda blindly conquers Chicago high wire

Nik Wallenda, the King of the High Wire, successfully completed what he called the most dangerous stunt he’s ever attempted, taking two spine-tingling walks on high wires between skyscrapers in Chicago.

One walk was 200 yards long with an incredible 19-degree incline. The other was shorter—93 feet (see video above)—but he did it blindfolded, and he did both as millions of viewers watched in breath-taking amazement on Discovery Channel and online.

An official from Guinness World Records was on hand to certify Wallenda’s feats as world records—highest incline tightrope walk at 670.73 feet and the highest blindfolded tightrope walk at 557.89 feet.

Nik Wallenda completing the second tightrope walk blindfolded. Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel
Nik Wallenda completing the second tightrope walk blindfolded. Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel

A seemingly calm Wallenda made the first walk from the 588-foot West Marina Tower to the 671-foot Leo Burnett Building over the Chicago River look easy, carrying on a casual conservation with his father and those associated with the event during the near 7-minute walk.

“I’m definitely not taking my time,” he said at one point. “Unfortunately, I planned to do a selfie right now, but I’m not going to do one.”

As he’s done with previous walks, he relied heavily on his faith. “God is in control,” he said while walking. “Thank you God for the amazing talent you’ve given me.”

When he reached the end, the estimated crowd of 65,000 on the streets below gave out a cheer.

“Wow,” Wallenda responded. “Amazing the roar of that crowd. How awesome.”

Nik Wallenda made his first walk look easy. Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel
Nik Wallenda made his first walk look easy. Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel

The second walk 20 minutes later was much more intense as he walked from the West Marina Tower to the East Marina Tower.

“You probably saw me shaking like a leaf,” Wallenda told Discovery Channel afterward. “That wire was shaking underneath me. I just wanted to make it to the other side. I wasn’t going to think twice. I was just getting to where I was going.”

Wearing a blindfold certified by Guinness World Records, Wallenda listened for a special device that gave a pinging sound at the finish to give him direction, and his father, using a megaphone, alerted him when he was two steps away from the joint where stabilizing cables were connected to the high wire.

He reached the other side in just 1 minute, 15 seconds. When he finished, Wallenda looked out at the crowd below and blew them a kiss, waved, and said, “Praise God. Thank you Jesus.”

The blindfolded walk was definitely more intense and more difficult for Wallenda than the longer uphill walk, performed in 44-degree weather with only a little bit of wind.

“The big thing was the intimidation factor,” he told Discovery Channel. “When you walk to the edge of a building and look down 600 feet and say I’m going to do this blindfolded and there’s wind—but even though the wind was light, and praise God for that—still there’s wind. Even hearing that, it’s extremely intimidating.

“So that’s the hardest part of what I do is waiting to go. I want to go. I want to get on that wire. I want to get across the other side. That way I know I’m across and I’m safe.

“I’m so thankful for all the training I was able to do…Clearly it paid off. You saw me walk right across that incline wire. There were some times when I had some strong gusts of wind. There was times I had crosswinds and it was definitely a lot steeper than in training, but I felt confident and was able to make it across safely.”

In preparation for the event, Wallenda practiced for three weeks on identical rigging in his hometown of Sarasota, Florida, with wind machines replicating anticipated conditions.

In Chicago, officials closed two bridges, two long sections of streets, and a stretcth of the river below. They also issued a set of rules in advance of the event, according to the Chicago Tribune. During the event, area residents were barred from using drones or laser pointers, playing loud music, grilling, yelling or taking pictures with flash cameras.

Nik Wallenda plans to do two headstands on a high wire next year to keep his family's legacy alive. Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel
Nik Wallenda plans to do two headstands on a high wire next year to keep his family’s legacy alive. Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel

Wallenda, a married father of three, now holds nine Guinness World Records for various high-wire and acrobatic feats. He signed a contract with Discovery Channel in 2012 for near-exclusive broadcast rights for his stunts.

In June 2013, Wallenda walked across a 1,400-foot-long wire stretched over a 1,500-foot-deep canyon near the Grand Canyon and did so without a safety harness or net.

The stunt was broadcast live on Discovery Channel and reached 13 million viewers, making it Discovery’s highest-rated live event ever. It also generated 1.3 million tweets, ranking it as the most social show across all broadcast and cable networks in the U.S.

After completing that stunt, Wallenda immediately started talking about his next stunt, expressing a desire to walk between two skyscrapers. So now that he’s accomplished that, what’s next?

Wallenda said his life is about carrying on a legacy and that his great grandfather’s greatest walk of his career was over 600-feet high and over a thousand-feet long and he did two headstands, one for the troops and one for all of his fans.

“I’ve never done a headstand on a wire publicly so my goal is to recreate it,” he said. “It’s the 45-year anniversary next year and I want to recreate that walk.”

We’ll all be waiting…and watching.

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