Exclusive Interview with Nik Wallenda, King of the High Wire
Walking By Faith, Not By Sight: Meet the King of High Wire, Nik Wallenda
Nik Wallenda is a seventh-generation member of The Flying Wallendas family of aerialists. His ancestors have been circus performers since the 1700s and have been doing balancing acts without nets since Karl Wallenda, his great-grandfather, made the family famous in the 1920s. At 73 years old, Karl died after falling from a tight rope in Puerto Rico. But that didn’t keep the family from forging on, or Nik from wanting to carry the family legacy to even more incredible heights.
To date Nik Wallenda holds nine Guiness World Records, including two that were just set at his most recent wire walk in Chicago – one for walking the steepest tightrope incline between two buildings, and the other for the highest tightrope walk while blindfolded. He has walked over the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, and even proposed to his future wife, Erendira, on a wire 30 feet high during a performance in Canada.
Before every walk, Wallenda joins his family in prayer and always wears a cross as he performs. His emphasizes that his relationship with God is the center of his life. Risen talked with the thirty-five-year-old father of three after his most recent skyscraper wire walk to learn more about his background, family, and incredible faith.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: Take me back to how it all started and how you decided to carry on the The Flying Wallendas family tradition?
Nik Wallenda: My family started performing on wires back in the 1780’s, so for seven generations, and for more than 200 years, this is what we have been doing. My great-grandfather brought the family over to the United States to perform in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1928. Our first performance was actually in New York City at Madison Square Garden. We performed all over the world and I’m just carrying on an amazing legacy and blessed to be in the shoes that I’m in.
RISEN MAGAZINE: Was there ever a question or opportunity for you to go into something different or did you just know this type of performing was your calling?
NIK WALLENDA: Oh absolutely, I was actually on my way to becoming a pediatrician. I was going to go to Southeastern University, which is a Bible college in Lakeland, Florida, and I was set to become a pediatrician when I was 18 years old. But if you read my book [Balance: A Story of Faith, Family, and Life on the Line] it tells the story of why I changed direction and ended up carrying on the legacy.
(At age 19, Wallenda participated in a re-creation of his great-grandfather Karl’s, seven-person pyramid on a high wire alongside other family members. After seeing the media attention and recognizing that, “There was definitely a future. [The live circus industry] was not dying, it’s just changing.” He decided to make a career of it saying. “I knew then what I was born to do.”)
RISEN MAGAZINE: When did faith first become real to you, when you knew it wasn’t just something that was part of your family heritage, but that you wanted to make it an integral part of your life?
NIK WALLENDA: From a really young age. I gave my life to Christ when I was four years old and I knew at that point how important it was and that it wasn’t just something that the family did; it wasn’t tradition. Throughout my entire life from 9, 10, 11 and 12 years old, I remember situations where God played a key role in decisions that my parents made and by seeing how faithful God was at those times was really what lead to me being who I am today.
RISEN MAGAZINE: How has your faith then been woven into your preparation and performance when it comes to your talent?
NIK WALLENDA: My faith is a key component to my entire life. If I’m dealing with a car accident or my teenage son at school with a problem, I always seek God first. In any stressful situation God provides a peace that surpasses all understanding. I do spend a lot of time with God, not just in my career, but in general. The Bible says to pray without ceasing. So, I’m constantly talking to God. I think it kind of goes without saying after every event thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of emails, notes, and messages come to me from people asking, “How do you stay calm like that?” or, “There’s something different about you.” This is because God provides peace even though I’m doing something seemingly impossible; God gives me this overwhelming peace. So my prayer leading up to a walk is peace, of course guidance and wisdom, and the fact God will use me to somehow touch the lives of other people. Really that’s what’s it about for me.
I don’t believe that God holds me on the wire, I don’t believe it’s a supernatural force that holds me up there, I believe that God has given me this talent and I choose to use the talent that God has given me to bring glory to His name. Similar to Tim Tebow, who God has given him the talent of throwing a football and he chooses to use the platform God gave him, to bring glory to God’s name. I just have a little bit of a more unique talent; there are more football players than there are wire walkers. [Laughter] But really we both have the same thought, the same concept, and the same ideas.
RISEN MAGAZINE: You had 50,000 plus people watching you on the ground in Chicago. TV viewers domestically and in so many countries around the world watched and it’s very clear that Christ is at the center of all you do.
NIK WALLENDA: I’m not shy about it and I think more of us need to be bold. We need to be bold in our faith; I think we are too shy and reserved. I think God wants us to be bold. That is our first, and foremost calling in life, to lead others to Christ. That’s what we are called to do here on this earth. I’m not shy about it; this is who I am. Modern society says, “Don’t do that, people aren’t going to watch if you are talking about Jesus.” My last TV special was the highest rated TV special in the history of the biggest network in the world, seen around the world. I’m not shy about it. God is forming no one to be against me and I truly believe that. There is no reason to be ashamed of the glory of God’s name and if people don’t like it, I have said publicly before, “If you don’t like hearing me proclaim the name of Jesus, and you enjoy watching what I do, then push the mute button on the TV.” God works in supernatural ways and lives will be touched and glory be to God. That’s what I prayed as I walked that wire in Chicago, “Let God have the glory. It’s not about Nik Wallenda, it’s the platform that God has given Nik Wallenda… let Him be glorified through it all.”
I don’t believe that God holds me on the wire, I don’t believe it’s a supernatural force that holds me up there, I believe that God has given me this talent and I choose to use the talent that God has given me to bring glory to His name.
RISEN MAGAZINE: Through your testimony of stepping out in boldness, you are showing people that something may seem impossible, but it is actually possible with the right mindset and preparation. What would you say to others who doubt themselves when it comes to career paths or raising a family?
NIK WALLENDA: We as a society, and I’m guilty of it too, discourage more than we encourage. Somebody says, “Hey I’m going to open up a pizza restaurant.” And I say, “Pizza? How are you going to do that? There are pizza restaurants everywhere, why would you do that?” As the one receiving that, you are thinking, “Oh yeah, you’re right. Maybe I shouldn’t do this. How am I going to do that?” And the truth is, if you make the best pizza in town it doesn’t matter how many competitors there are, or how long they have been there, you are going to be busier than anyone else and you will be successful. I encourage people not focus on the negative, but focus on the positive.
Before I lead up to a wire walk my mind often – because of the media, they want to talk about the negative, and the dangers, and the risks, and I understand that, it’s part of the hype to buildup an audience for what I do – I’m constantly battling those negative thoughts. But I have a direct line to the Creator and I believe God has all things for a purpose and I believe that the weather will be calm and if it isn’t, then I will not get on the wire in the first place. I will postpone; there is a lot of common sense that goes into what we do. I’m able to stay calm because I know God is the Creator and He’s the one that paves the way and as long as I have faith in Him, I can accomplish anything.
I encourage people to be bolder, take those steps, pursue your dreams and don’t give up. As believers we often get doors shut in our face and we immediately want to say, “Oh, God closed that door.” Maybe not, we have a deceiver out there that doesn’t want us to succeed and he might be the one closing those doors – so don’t give up! You need to seek God and [to see] if your desires and your dreams align with God’s Word, and it’s a desire that God has placed in your heart like Proverbs 3:5-6. Trust in Him and don’t lean on your own understanding. Trust in Him with all your heart and He will fulfill those desires. But we as believers say, “God closed that door.” No, I think that it’s very seldom God closes that door. If your dreams align with his Word, I think He wants us all to be successful and blessed beyond measure. If there are questions just continue to seek God and He will give you a peace about it.
RISEN MAGAZINE: Obviously you’ve had numerous times in your life where you have had to depend on God, but where does that conviction and courage come from to pursue the Lord wholeheartedly? And what advice would you give somebody who believes in the Lord, but is not sure what it looks like to practically live out faith?
NIK WALLENDA: It’s just practicing. Like for the wires, you practice, and you practice, and you practice; it’s the same with our faith in my opinion. There will be some doubts. I believe strongly in the Holy Spirit and often it’s confusing and you wonder, “Is that the Holy Spirit or is it me?” It’s about practicing and trying it again, and doing it again, and saying, “I don’t understand why, and I don’t understand how, but the Holy Spirit, He is always there for me and He is leading me and giving me wisdom.” And the more you learn to listen, the more that you test, the more bold you are, the more relevant, and the more familiar you get with His voice, then the more in touch you get with the Holy Spirit’s voice and that’s what it’s about.
People are so concerned and think that they will be condemned [if they reach out to God] but I’d rather be condemned and have a crown in Heaven, and spend time with God here on earth, than to spend my life here for monetary value and have it mean nothing in the end. If I can lead one person to Christ and change one’s person’s life, it was worth me being put on this earth. The more bold I can be, the stronger I can be, the more lives I can touch and be a better example to believers and nonbelievers.
God gave me a platform to millions and millions of nonbelievers around the world and for those people to see me stand up and see the confidence God gives me, I think that’s more of an example than anything – living an upright life and loving my wife. Here I am a daredevil, and you’d expect me to have tattoos everywhere, and be going out to the bar every night, and I’m really the first one in my hotel room at night. I don’t live that life whatsoever; I don’t fit that mold. There is something different about me and I love that question. I’ve heard it so many times growing up in life, “Why are you different? What makes you different?” Wow! What an opportunity God has given me. Every time someone asks me that question it’s just opening a door where I can answer, “Because I’m a daredevil.” Or I can answer, “Because of Jesus Christ living inside of me and this is why, and this is how you can be different.” It’s up to me on how I answer that question. And not being scared of being made fun of, or put down, because what does it matter in the end? None of it matters.
RISEN MAGAZINE: What does your training regime look like?
NIK WALLENDA: I train low to the ground and I simulate all conditions – meaning wind machines, inclines, of course walking blindfolded, rigging conditions as close as we can get – but all very close to the ground. Having said that, I was still up 85 feet training for Chicago because of the needed incline.
I encourage people to be bolder, take those steps, pursue your dreams and don’t give up.
RISEN MAGAZINE: When it comes to your day-to-day life, are you pretty calculated or do you have extreme streaks or impulses, or is wire walking the outlet of choice?
NIK WALLENDA: I consider wire walking way more calculated than you could imagine. I train to walk on a wire, grab a wire, catch a wire, and hang from a wire. I train to walk in 120mph winds – which have never knocked me off a wire – even though I would never get on a wire if winds were over 50mph. I train to drop down and grab a wire and hold on for 20 minutes even though rescue crews would be to me anywhere on that wire within 90 seconds. The wire is always at my feet and very safe. It’s very, very calculated. The rest of my life I am extremely reserved. People are blown away when they come to my house because they expect me to live on the beach and I don’t; it’s just not me. God says, “If I trust you with a little, I can trust you with a lot.” I’m definitely not foolish.
RISEN MAGAZINE: It’s great to see your family is so involved from the type of shoes you are wearing to securing the wire in place.
NIK WALLENDA: Absolutely, I think that is just another godly example, my family is a key component to the success of my walks. From the shoes that make me safe, to the actual engineering so it is done properly, the rigging being put up right, to the safety of the actual walk – that is all family and very, very close friends. But those key players are all immediate family.
RISEN MAGAZINE: I saw a video vignette where you were coaching your kids. How do they feel about following in your footsteps or do you think they will choose another path?
NIK WALLENDA: I will coach my kids if they are on the wire, but never once in their lives have I told my kids to get on the wire and walk. You can ask any one of them. It is what they do for fun. It’s a cool thing to do and we have wires in our backyard and all the neighbors come over and try it.
Would I teach them? Absolutely. At this point, they are not interested in carrying on in the family industry whatsoever. They want to go to college and do different things and I’m more than thrilled with that. I’m a parent that wants to see my children succeed and I encourage them to work hard no matter what they are doing. Whether they are working at a fast food restaurant, or becoming the President of the United States – you work as hard as you can at anything and you’ll be successful. That’s the way I’ve raised my kids and I don’t have even the slightest expectation of them carrying on what I do.
Exclusive Interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Winter 2014