SARASOTA, Fla. — Famed daredevil Nik Wallenda glided 500 feet across a wire suspended 200 feet above the ground on Tuesday, wowing several thousand people below in his hometown of Sarasota.
Without a tether or safety net, Wallenda was the lone figure against a blue sky, aided only by a balancing pole. He made the death-defying stunt look easy, but the performance was anything but simple: it took dozens of circus workers to pull and release the thick black cables that controlled Wallenda’s wire as he walked. The morning was windier than expected, and at one point near the end, Wallenda dipped down to one knee on the wire, which led to loud gasps among the crowd.
“I have to get into a zone where I kind of forget about everything else and just focus on what I’m doing,” he said shortly before he stepped on the wire. “Fear is a choice but danger is real, and that’s very, very true for my line of work.”
When Wallenda went to one knee, the drama reached a fever pitch.
“Scary,” said Neil Montford, a vacationer from the United Kingdom, while wiping sweat from his brow and looking skyward.
Wallenda, 34, wore a gold cross around his neck and prayed with his wife, children and parents prior to the walk.
“It’s my job, it’s my career, it’s my passion, it’s what I love to do,” he said.
The Sarasota City Commission allowed the stunt without a tether. Wallenda wore a tether for the first time last summer when he walked across Niagara Falls because the television network that was paying for the performance insisted on it.
Wallenda is a seventh-generation high-wire artist and is part of the famous “Flying Wallendas” circus family. His great-grandfather, Karl Wallenda, fell during a performance in Puerto Rico and died.
But Wallenda wasn’t focused on the possibility of tragedy. In the hours before the stunt, Wallenda walked underneath the wire, which was suspended between a crane and a condo in downtown Sarasota. He spoke of his city, of the nearby sparkling bay and how he loved to hear the cheers of the crowd while hundreds of feet up in the air.