Nik Wallenda made his hometown high-wire debut shortly after 9 a.m. today from the top of One Watergate condominium. High above a mob of cheering Sarasota spectators, Wallenda, 31, embarked on a 600-foot walk from One Watergate condominium to the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota on a wire rigged 200 feet above street level with no safety harness.
Pausing every few feet to wave to the crowd, Wallenda, the great-grandson of legendary circus performer Karl Wallenda, elicited gasps from the crowd when he knelt on one knee several times and laid flat on his back midway through, balancing the weight of his 190-pound frame on the wire.
“It’s really cool and scary,” said Ely Nabor, 9, who watched with her family in the parking lot of the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. “That’s really high up to not have a safety net.”
Nabor was among thousands of spectators who gathered around the Ritz this morning to watch the stunt. She attends the same Sarasota church as Wallenda, a native Sarasotan and this year’s Circus Sarasota headliner. The spectacle was intended to generate buzz for Circus Sarasota’s 2010 season, which runs Feb. 12 to Feb. 28 –– and that it did.
With traffic backed up for a mile in both directions on Tamiami Trail and pedestrians and bicyclists pushing past one another to get a clear view of the wire, downtown residents accustomed to relatively empty sidewalks were amazed by the turnout.
“This is wonderful for Sarasota,” said Barbara Keltz, a Broadway Promenade resident. “I think everyone was amazed to see someone do something like this here. My family is visiting from New York and they’re all out here this morning. I hope this brings more people to the circus. It’s so important we support it.”
As for Wallenda: When he reached the end of his wire, he was greeted by best friend and former Circus Sarasota performer Bello Nock, a daredevil clown who last year performed a sway-pole stunt in Five Points Park. Standing on the roof of the Ritz, Wallenda turned to face the crowd, threw his fist the air and pumped it triumphantly.
“I can tell you, there’s no view like that view up there,” he later said to a sea of reporters. “I’ve walked the wire across the world and never had the chance to walk it in my hometown, so this is very special to me.”
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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