Daredevil Nik Wallenda Successfully Crosses Niagara Falls on a Tightrope

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Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press / AP

Nik Wallenda walks over Niagara Falls on a tightrope in Niagara Falls, Ontario, on Friday, June 15, 2012.

If you had managed to peer through the mist Friday, you’d have seen a tiny speck amid the raging waters of the Niagara River. It was Nik Wallenda, the daredevil who braved the treachery of Niagara Falls, successfully crossing 1,800 feet across the gorge on a two-inch wire.

And it’s not like he had any pressure. Live cameras were trained on Wallenda as he managed careful, calculated steps through the drenching spray.  Holding his balancing wire 200 feet above the rushing river, the falls roared around him, but the unforgiving power of nature was no match for the determined stuntmaster.

At about 10:15 p.m. Friday, he stepped off the platform – and away from safety – on the U.S. side of the falls. The precarious journey took more than 25 minutes to complete, with at least four television cameras trained on every possible angle.

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“Oh my God, this is an incredible view. I’m so blessed to be in the position I am, to be the first person to be right here and to be the first person in the world who will ever be right here, this is truly breathtaking,” Wallenda, who was wearing a television microphone, said as he crossed over the heart of Niagara Falls. But he didn’t have much time to look around – nor much of a view at all. Heavy mist and water rushing from all directions threatened to kick him off balance at any moment.

“It’s all about the concentration, the focus, and it all goes back to the training,” he said after completing the journey. But Wallenda, so confident he would make it, broke into a playful run in the final 15 feet, rushing into the arms of his wife and three children. The embrace was the first semblance of stability he had since he left the U.S. platform.

ABC, which televised the live special, along with the show’s advertisers, who helped offset the $1.3 million cost of permits and equipment, were reluctant to show such a treacherous act and insisted on safety precautions. So if Wallenda had lost his balance Friday, he wouldn’t have dropped 200 feet into the perilous stream to his almost certain death – he was connected to a short tether that would have caught him.

But it was an unlikely occurrence anyway, because this was no haphazard journey; he’s had years of practice and inspiration. Wallenda, 33, is a seventh-generation member of a clan known as the Flying Wallendas. He holds six Guinness world records for his stunts but still managed to stay humble. “That’s what this is all about, paying tribute to my ancestors, and my hero, Karl Wallenda,” he said as he crossed. Karl Wallenda, Nik’s great-grandfather and the family’s patriarch, died tragically during a tightrope stunt in Puerto Rico in 1978.

An estimated 112,000 people crowded the shores on both sides of the falls to watch the stunt. Travelers routinely cross the river between the two countries by bridge or by boat, but none have taken Wallenda’s route before. Wallenda, 33, is the first person to ever traverse the falls entirely. A number of daredevils have walked on wires across the river but never over the core of the falls, and it’s the first time in 112 years that a Niagara tightrope walk was attempted. Authorities forbade all tightrope feats around the falls in 1896. Friday’s spectacle was approved in part to help jumpstart tourist activity around the tourist attraction, as interest has declined in recent years. Wallenda’s stunt took  more than two years of wrangling officials from both the U.S. and Canada.

How do you top a high wire act across the most powerful waterfall in North America? By stringing a tightrope across the Grand Canyon, of course. Wallenda has already obtained the necessary permits, and within the next five years, his goal is to traverse the mile-deep gorge. “I hope what I do and what I just did inspires people around the world to reach for the skies,” he said.

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