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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010 10 years ago

Walking a fine line

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

There’s no tiptoeing around it. Nik Wallenda is ambitious and fearless, which, in his profession, means one of two things: success or death.

The week before Circus Sarasota announced that Wallenda would be walking on a high wire running between One Watergate condominium and The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, the 31-year-old daredevil was in his brother-in-law’s backyard off Lockwood Ridge Road, lobbing a football at members of his seven-man pyramid while they teetered across a practice wire 11 feet in the air.

“We throw the ball at them so they don’t lose their focus,” says Wallenda, while tossing the pigskin at a guy named Paul Matthew Lopez, who, despite his not falling appears to be visibly irritated by the exercise. “It’s a game, but there’s a bit of seriousness to it. Paul gets upset when you do it. He takes it personally.”

Lopez mutters something only the other performers on the wire can hear, and Wallenda, delighted to have riled him, laughs.

“If the ball knocks ’em down, they’re heading back home,” he says with no hint of irony.

If you didn’t know Wallenda’s circus pedigree and reputation for sauntering across high wires rigged hundreds of feet in the air, you probably wouldn’t recognize him. If you ran into him at the grocery store, you’d probably think he was just another young father with strawberry-blond hair and freckles.

Seated at a picnic table beside his 8-year-old son, Amadaos, who is home sick from school, Wallenda talks about his mother (Delilah Wallenda, the granddaughter of Karl Wallenda, founder of The Flying Wallendas), his best friend, Bello Nock (a daredevil clown with similar circus roots), his friendship with magician David Blaine and why he prefers to live in a tidy subdivision in Bradenton.

“Most performers want a lot of property,” says Wallenda. “Not me. I like to have a break from my work.”
Pushing aside bags of McDonald’s French fries and chicken nuggets, Wallenda, a Sarasota native, answers calls from his mother and offers advice to a gaggle of shirtless guys up on the wire ­— all of whom will appear this month in his seven-man chair pyramid at Circus Sarasota, a stunt pioneered by his great-grandfather 63 years ago.

Given Wallenda’s rising star, you’d expect him to be training in a less bucolic setting. Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” blasts from the speakers of a dusty Jeep, a miniature pony pokes around the yard and Wallenda’s wife, Erendira, a trapeze artist, runs around picking up the couple’s two other children from school.

“It’s always fun to get together with my family and do this stuff,” said Wallenda, who has spent the last few years breaking records and making headlines across the country, positioning himself for life beyond the Big Top.

In October 2008, suspended 20 stories over the streets of Newark, N.J., Wallenda walked 150 feet on a high wire and returned on a bicycle. The stunt was broadcast live on the “Today Show” and earned the performer his second Guinness World Record. (His first came in 2001 when he and his family pulled off an eight-person pyramid at Japan’s Kurashiki Tivoli Park.)

Last summer, he embarked on a “Walk Across America Tour,” traversing 1,000 feet across the Allegheny River and 300 feet along a Sky Ride cable at Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio.

“Nik realized he’s not reaching the audience he wanted to reach within the confines of the circus,” says Terry Troffer, Wallenda’s father. “So he decided to take it up a notch. It’s hard to tell Nik not to do something, so I just tell him to use his head. If I wasn’t aware of his abilities, I’d question his sanity.”

Wallenda’s next great stunt, the one he can’t stop thinking about, involves the Grand Canyon and $1 million, which he’s currently shopping around to major television networks.

“I’m never complacent,” Wallenda says frankly. “I have the drive to go further, go higher and push limits. If I had the money to fund it, I’d walk the Grand Canyon on my own.”

Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected]

Circus Sarasota runs Feb. 12 to Feb. 28 under the Big Top, at 12th Street and Tuttle Avenue. For tickets, call 355-9805 or visit

Here’s the secret behind Nik Wallenda’s high-wire shoes: His mother, Delilah Wallenda, stitches every pair he and his family wear. The top half of the shoe is made out of soft leather and the bottom half is elk skin.
“She’s made them ever since I could walk,” Wallenda says. “We’re all getting new ones for our Circus Sarasota performance –– although I hate wearing new ones.”

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