Dare-devil and circus performer Nik Wallenda defies gravity again as he walks a tight rope across US-41 in Sarasota and I was up close and personal.
I woke up this morning not sure whether I would go watch Nik Wallenda walk across US-41. I mean I watched him walk over Niagara Falls and that was kind of cool but I wasn’t sold. I do work right next to the guys who did the artwork and promotions for the event so I had all the details, I just wasn’t sure that I wanted to fight a crowd, skip a morning of work and watch some guy walk a tight rope across US-41 in Sarasota.
Am I ever glad I decided to go. I ended up with front row access to what I am sure will go down as one of the biggest events in Sarasota media history and a record setting tightrope walk to say the least. I got to mingle with the Who’s-Who of Sarasota, drink mimosas and spend a morning on one of the nicest balconies in Sarasota. Oh, did I mention Jack Hanna was there too!
We got down to Bayfront Park around 9:30 and things were well underway. The crowds were gathering as people tried to stake their claim on the best view. It was pretty impressive, there was a large crane supporting the wire from one end and the other end was somehow attached to the roof of Marina Tower. I didn’t know it at the time but I would be getting to go up to the “landing pad” and see how the entire rigging was set up as well as getting to be there when Nick Wallenda finished his tight rope walk across US41.
As game time approached you could almost feel the tension in the air. The excitement and buzz consumed us as everyone talked about what they were about to see and I know I couldn’t have been the only one thinking about everything that could possibly go wrong. At this point I was still hanging around street side but I would soon be invited to come join the VIP crowd up on the balcony where Nik would be ending his walk. My vantage point was about to get way better.
When we got to the penthouse at the Marina Tower I got my first real glimpse at the high wire and how it interfaced with the building. Just getting the wire up there in the first place had to be an engineering feat in its own right. It wrapped around part of what I think was an elevator shaft and then connected to the largest ratcheting winch I have ever seen.
As you followed the cable from the winch to the edge of the balcony and off to the crane tower you could see there was a huge bow in the cable. You think it would be this super tight wire that is just a straight line from the crane to the building but there was a huge dip in the wire as well as a curve due to the strong winds at the event.
There were lines connected to the wire to stabilize the tight rope and there were volunteers on the ground manipulating them to adjust for wind and ideal tension on the line. At one point during the walk we actually heard someone come on the radio telling the people on the street that they were pulling the rope too hard.
It was a fairly quick process once Nik got up and started moving. He was carried to the top of a crane in a large basket with one other person and his stabilizer bar which I was told weighed between 30-40 lbs. He climbs to the top of the crane and sits there, getting in position to walk out on the rope. I know I would have been petrified up there but he looked as calm as ever and just started walking as if it was his job… (What’s that? It is his job?) started walking like it was just another day on the job.
There were a couple of times where he had to stop and stabilize himself and as calm as he was during the entire event I have to wonder whether they were necessary or if it was all part of the show. You almost get the feeling that he adds these little balance checks as part of the performance otherwise people might start to get the idea that it was way too easy.
When he got about 1 yards from the balcony he actually started interacting with the people on the balcony and making jokes about the circus. Oh, and that was before stopping to give us a little Tebow action (yes, he actually took a knee on the high wire and gave us a fist pump) towards the end of the walk.
The last few steps on the high wire were more like skips. Nik crossed over the balcony, handed over the stabilizer bar (you can see in the video where they almost take me out with the bar) and straddled the balcony to acknowledge the crowd both on the ground and on the balcony.
As he steps down he wiped a tear from his eye, shook a few hands and waled straight over to give his wife a kiss. After that it was your usual pictures and interviews all over the place. I didn’t get chance to talk to him about the event but we did get some good pictures as well as a memory I will not soon forget.
This was definitely one of those moments that I will never forget and I guess no matter how old you get you never get scared of watching someone cheat death but it really was one heck of a Tuesday morning.
Much thanks to Jessie Biter for letting them use his condo as well as the HuB for promoting and fighting for this to actually happen as well as allowing me unparalleled access to the event. I am sure there are a ton of other people to thank and recognize for the event so whoever you are thanks for helping us pull this off.