A daredevil will take the art of tightrope walking to new heights when he attempts to cross the Little Colorado River Gorge near the Grand Canyon on Sunday.
Nik Wallenda will try to walk a two-inch-thick cable suspended 1,500 feet above the river – higher than the Empire State building. The fearless 34-year-old has been training at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Florida, in the two weeks leading up to what he calls his “dream.” The Discovery Channel’s live broadcast will begin at 8 p.m Eastern Time. Wallenda estimates that it will take about half an hour to traverse the gorge, which is about a third of a mile wide at the point where he will make his crossing.
Wallenda made history when he became the first person to walk across Niagara Falls on Jun. 15, 2012, in front of an estimated 112,000 onlookers. The successful crossing also marked his seventh world record; he set a Guinness World Record for the highest and longest bicycle trek across a tightrope (235 feet) in Newark, New Jersey, which the Today Show broadcasted live on Oct. 15, 2008. Back in February 2001, he was part of the highest eight-person pyramid, which was assembled on a wire suspended 25 feet in the air in Sarasota, Florida.
Like all of Nik’s ventures, this weekend’s Colorado River feat is in honor of his great-grandfather Karl Wallenda, a legendary stuntsman best-known for creating the seven-person chair pyramid on a wire 35-feet above the ground in 1947. In 1978, he fell to his death while attempting to cross the two towers of the Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza in San Juan, Puerto Rico:
To finish what his great-grandfather started, Wallenda successfully completed the same stunt with his mother on Jun. 4, 2011. “I don’t do anything to outshine him; I do everything to shine light on him,” Wallenda told Sarasota Magazine earlier this month.
Nik, who has been tightrope walking since age 2, is a seventh-generation Wallenda, a family known collectively as the Flying Wallendas or the Great Wallendas. His mother designs the costumes and shoes he wears on these courageous acts, his uncles have made the tightrope, and his father guides him via an earpiece during the event, he told Today. His wife of 14 years, Erendira, gets it, because she comes from eight generations of circus and flying trapeze performers – the third oldest circus family in Australia. In 1999, he got down on one knee on a high wire 30 feet above ground in Montreal, Canada and proposed to her in front of 18,000 spectators. The couple has three children, Yanni, Amadaos and Evita.
Other high-profile tightrope walkers include Philippe Petit, who walked a wire strung between the two World Trade Center towers on August 7, 1974, and was the subject of an Academy Award-winning documentary Man on Wire. Juan Pedro Carrillo holds the record for most consecutive slips with a rope on a high wire (1,323), while Maimaitiaili Abula set the record for most 360-degree turns in two minutes on a tightrope (41), according to the Guinness World Records.
(LIST: The Greatest Daredevils Ever)
High-wire acts are just one type of daredevil feat. Some highlights from the past year:
April 29, 2013: Norwegian acrobat Eskil Ronningsbakken performs numerous balance stunts, including balancing blind-folded on a rope ladder dangling from a hot-air balloon on China’s Aizhai Bridge, the sixth highest in the world:
Oct. 14, 2012: Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner breaks the sound barrier in a 24-mile space jump over Roswell, New Mexico:
Oct. 8, 2012: Magician David Blaine survives one million volts of electricity for three days in New York City: