After making around 13 million television viewers’ hearts stop during last year’s gripping wire-walk across a portion of the Grand Canyon, Nik Wallenda is ready to have audiences wracking their nerves again.
“I love challenging myself,” Wallenda tells us in an interview.
That is obvious when one hears about his latest wire-walking attempt, which will be covered in the live Discovery Channel special Skyscraper Live With Nik Wallenda. As the title indicates, Wallenda will be engaging in a two-part walk between notable Chicago buildings (the second part of which will find him blindfolded). The first part of the crossing will find Wallenda walking further than two city blocks uphill, from Marina City’s west tower to the Leo Burnett Building. During the second, blindfolded part, Wallenda will cross a span from Marina City’s west tower to the east tower. This is the highest skyscraper walk in the storied history of the Wallenda family — more than 50 stories high.
“I wanted to do something in a big city,” explains Wallenda. “I’d done, of course, the Grand Canyon, which was a very remote location. … As I started to look at cityscapes, and do a little bit of research, one of the first attractions to Chicago was the [nickname,] the Windy City. There are arguments on whether that has to do with politics or weather, but that’s neither here nor there. That’s what attracted me originally, because as a wire walker, of course your biggest enemy is the wind.”
And Chicago in November is likely to have a good amount of wind, especially when Wallenda says that they chose the windiest area of the city. But the drama of Skyscraper Live won’t be limited to Wallenda merely balancing on the wire. He explains the breathtaking view of the area chosen (which the TV audience will see via dozens of cameras positioned around the city and on helicopters), as well as a first for him — walking up a considerable incline on the wire.
“I spent a lot of time on rooftops looking around in the evening, and this was one that just really showcased the city. It was absolutely beautiful; it showcases the [Chicago] River. And just to make it a little more dramatic, I decided to walk uphill at a 15-degree incline. So rather than walk from one rooftop to another directly across, or from one rooftop into the window of another, which I’ve done in the past, I decided to create a little more of a challenge for myself.”
As Wallenda admits during our talk, the weather in this part of the country can turn on a dime, especially in late fall/early winter. Are there any environmental factors like snow that would cause him to postpone this attempt?
Wallenda says that he would do the walk “as long as I have enough visibility and traction … the wire, having enough traction to make it up. I’m working with a special coating on the wire right now so that traction should not be an issue. As long as there’s no ice on the wire.”
This is the first time Wallenda has walked on an incline such as this, and it required a new sort of training for him.
“It’s a lot about strengthening the legs,” he says. “Normally, the hardest part of walking the wire, believe it or not, the part that strains the quickest are your arms because of that balancing pole. With this one, it’s a combination of my arms and my legs.”
And, heaven forbid, if his arms and legs give out, or a sudden burst of wind knocks him around on the wire, Wallenda explains his “out.”
“My entire life I’ve trained that if there’s ever an issue, that I go down and grab that wire. The wire is always a safe haven; it’s always at my feet, and I would go down and grab that wire and hold on. I’ve got rescue teams that can be to me within minutes anywhere on that wire.”
One would think that after a while of testing himself (and his family’s nerves), enough would be enough of these sorts of things even for the hardiest soul. But during our chat, Wallenda doesn’t sound like he would be stopping anytime soon.
“I truly have a passion for what I do, but I will say that there definitely will be a time when I will say, you know, ‘Enough. I’m not going to do it anymore.’ But at this point, I’m only 35, I’m in pretty good physical condition, great health, love what I do, so I think there’s a good chance that there will be more out there. I’m not committed to anything else; this is what I’m focused on. Once this is through, I may make a decision to do more, but this is my entire focus.”
Skyscraper Live With Nik Wallenda airs live Nov. 2 at 7pm ET on Discovery Channel. The special is hosted by NBC News’ Willie Geist and Natalie Morales, and The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore. Skyscraper Live is airing around the world, in more than 220 countries.