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Photo by Mark Wemple.
Sarasota Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 5 years ago

The business of being Nik

by: Mark Gordon Observer Staff

For a guy not yet 34, Nik Wallenda has a bucket full of alternate identities.

He might be most well known for being a seventh-generation member of the Flying Wallendas, a famous family of circus performers. The Sarasota-based husband and father of three young children is also an aerialist, an acrobat, a high-wire artist and a self-described daredevil. Other monikers for Wallenda include: reality TV star, six-time Guinness World Record holder and motivational speaker.

But Wallenda can now add one more moniker: high-flying entrepreneur. That’s because the business of being Nik Wallenda has become a full-time enterprise since June 15, when he became the first person to walk a tightrope over Niagara Falls.

His mission, he says, isn’t just to find new and bolder feats. He also wants to promote a can-do brand of determination, persistence and fortitude — and sell some hats and books in the process. He clearly was born with a certain talent, but he emphasizes that he will outwork anyone, no matter the task. That goes from researching contracts to walking tightropes.

“If you are going to do something, do it to the best of your ability,” Wallenda says. “I believe in working hard. I work my butt off.”

Here are some other examples of Wallenda’s work ethic and recently learned business lessons:

Sunny side: Wallenda’s first non-tightrope gig was in the kitchen at the First Watch on Main Street in downtown Sarasota. In fact, in a five-year stint Wallenda did everything at that First Watch. He cooked, bussed tables, served food and, for a time, supervised shifts. He even nearly moved to West Virginia to help open some new locations.

Keep going: The Niagara Falls walk, 1,800 feet of wire suspended 200 feet high, was in one sense the easy part for Wallenda. That’s because even to get there it took two years of meetings, hearings and conversations to change the laws in both Canada and the U.S. Wallenda says he learned that winning people over is a delicate combination of having facts and actively listening to concerns.

Wallenda says he also discovered that the best way to win the battle is to over-prepare. “Think like a naysayer will think and have the answers before he asks the questions,” he says. “Find a solution to the problem before it becomes a problem.”

Detail-oriented: The daily to-dos of running the business, says Wallenda, can be complicated. For example, Wallenda has to get workers’ compensation insurance policies for himself and his crew in every state in which he works. That can be a bureaucratic nightmare. “There is more business in what we do than anyone cam dream of,” Wallenda says. “It’s not just the physical stuff.”

Local star: In the past year, Wallenda has been prominently featured everywhere from the “Today Show” to USA Today. He’s been the subject of feature stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and the Science Channel aired a reality show on his feats and his family last year. A book he wrote about his life, “Balance: A Story of Faith, Family and Life on the Line,” is scheduled for release in June. “I love performing,” Wallenda says. “I want to carry on this legacy.”

Home cooking: Wallenda regularly shows love for Sarasota. When journalists worldwide ask him where his favorite place to travel is, he always plugs the circus-infused town. “I love this city,” he says. “Anything I can do to help the city, I will.”

Big plans: Permits are already secured for Wallenda’s next challenge: A walk across the Grand Canyon, scheduled for sometime this summer. The motivation to try new and different tasks, ones that are seemingly impossible, continues to define his career path. “I won’t stop,” he says. “It’s more about building a legacy than carrying on a business, but we have been blessed in the business.”

Life is a highwire
A unanimous City Commission vote Tuesday night cleared one big hurdle for Nik Wallenda, who wants to “skywalk” across U.S. 41 — without a safety harness.

Commissioners voted to issue an expedited events permit to Wallenda.
Wallenda still needs to get approval from the Florida Department of Transportation, because the event will cross, and close, a state highway.

The proposed walk, planned for Tuesday, Jan. 29, would be about 15 stories high across U.S. 41 from downtown to the bayfront near the Unconditional Surrender sculpture.

Wallenda said he trains in 90-mph winds and other adverse conditions to make sure he is ready for anything.

Commissioner Shannon Snyder called the seventh-generation member of the famous Flying Wallendas an “ambassador for the community.”

Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, estimated that Wallenda’s wirewalk might get an estimated 50 million-to-75 million “media impressions,” many of which will include photographs showing Sarasota’s bayfront in the background.

“Some people might say it is high-risk behavior,” Mayor Suzanne Atwell said to Wallenda, “but it is your family’s behavior. It is your calling.”

The event is slated for 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.
— Roger Drouin

Nik Wallenda is bringing his daredevil show to Sarasota. He’s scheduled to perform in three weeks of shows at Circus Sarasota, from Jan. 25 to Feb. 15. The shows are under the Circus Sarasota Big Top. Visit for more information.

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