Millions of television viewers watched as stuntman Nik Wallenda made his death-defying walk across the Little Colorado River Gorge near the Grand Canyon Sunday night in Arizona. Wallenda crossed the 1,500-foot deep gorge—the approximate height of the Empire State Building—on a two-inch cable without the aid of a harness or safety net.
After 22 minutes, 54 seconds of calm, methodical steps over the quarter-mile distance, Wallenda made history.
Gusts of wind clocked in at a high of 48 miles per hour before the walk, and the eight-and-a-half-ton cable visibly swayed beneath Wallenda, causing him to pause more than once. Through the microphone attached to the daredevil’s clothing, viewers could easily hear the wind batter the 34-year-old. But viewers also heard something else—prayer.
As he has done during many of his walks, Wallenda spent the time during his stunt talking to God, asking for strength, balance, and relaxation.
“Praise God. This is awesome,” Wallenda said as soon as he jumped off the cable at the end of the walk.
An avid Christian, Wallenda prays with his wife and three children before stunts, wears a silver cross around his neck as a testimony, and consistently speaks out about his faith. In his book Balance: A Story of Faith, Family, and Life on the Line, released this month by FaithWords, Wallenda discussed how his faith has influenced his personal life, his marriage, and his career goals. He acknowledged his battle with his own ego—the urge to clamor after fame and fortune—and how spending time in the Word has focused his efforts.
“My need, my passion, my joy to put all attention on Him,” Wallenda wrote.
“No, I don’t believe that God’s invisible hand is holding me up on the wire,” he wrote. “But yes, I do believe that I am strengthened by the steadiness of my faith. I do believe in a God whose steady love is unshakeable and eternal. That belief allows me to get beyond my apprehensions and ignore what otherwise might feel like my limitations.”
Wallenda comes from a long line of acrobats and aerialists. The Wallendas are an old circus family that has been performing for more than 200 years. His great-grandfather, Karl Wallenda, toured Europe in the early 1900s before coming to America to perform with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1928. Karl Wallenda developed some of the most impressive high-wire acts ever, including the seven-person chair pyramid, and continued to perform until age 73 when he fell to his death during a stunt at the Condado Plaza Hotel in Puerto Rico.
His great-grandfather has always inspired Nik Wallenda—his innovations driving the young Wallenda to perform greater and greater stunts. Last year he became the first person ever to walk across a tightrope stretched over Niagara Falls, and he holds seven Guinness World Records for his acrobatic feats. In 2011, Wallenda and his mother tightrope walked at the Condado Plaza Hotel in Puerto Rico in honor and memory of his great-grandfather.
The tragedies in his family’s past—along with Karl Wallenda, several other members of the Wallenda family have died or suffered serious injuries falling from the high wire—have not slowed Nik Wallenda. Instead, he has focused on his family’s courage and dedication to their artistry and placed his confidence in God. His stunts are not about defying death, he claims, but instead are expressions of “physical poetry.”
“When I do these feats, my spirit soars,” he said. “I’m hoping that what I do lends life—which can be mundane and boring—a certain beauty. Inspired by God, the human spirit can soar.”