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High-Wire Artist Nik Wallenda Eyes Niagara Falls

Originally published on June 25, 2011 11:37 am

Nik Wallenda — of the famed Flying Wallendas circus and stunt performers — hopes to walk over Niagara Falls on a tightrope. But first, he needs the help of the New York government. Right now, it's illegal to walk across the landmark on a high-wire.

This week, the state legislature passed a bill to lift the restriction; it isn't known whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo will sign it. Many, including the mayor of Niagara Falls, say the high-wire act would give the town's lagging economy a much-needed boost.

Wallenda says the feat "has been a dream of mine forever. It's in my blood."

Also known as the "King of the High-wire," Wallenda, 32, holds multiple Guinness World Records. He says he started walked on wires at the age of two.

The wet, windy conditions above Niagara Falls don't phase him, Wallenda says.

"We train very hard under windy conditions," he tells Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon. "I've actually walked a wire in my backyard with 90-mile-an-hour winds."

The idea that a wet high wire might be slippery is a "misconception," Wallenda says.

"It's actually just the opposite to that. Our wire shoes are suede leather," he says. "If you take suede leather and put it on a piece of steel, and put moisture on it, it actually sticks."

And then there's the training.

"To do this walk, I believe it's around 2,000 feet, to go from the U.S. to Canada," Wallenda says. "I would train walking a wire almost 8,000 feet, to overtrain for this."

In addition to New York's approval, Wallenda would also need to get permission from the Canadian government before crossing the Niagara gorge.

"One thing that I pride myself on is, everything that I do is completely legit," he says. "We go through every channel, and do it the proper way."

For the Niagara walk, that would include bringing his own rescue helicopter and dive team, Wallenda says.

If Gov. Cuomo signs the bill making his high-wire act legal, Wallenda would have one year to complete the feat.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Mr. Wallenda, thanks very much for being with us.

NIK WALLENDA: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Why do you want to do this?

WALLENDA: I've been doing it for my entire life. I'm 32 now, and I started walking a wire at the age of 2. And ever since I can remember I have thought of areas across the world where I would want to walk a wire. And this has been a dream of mine forever. It's in my blood.

SIMON: I've seen Niagara Falls a couple of times. And my memory is that it's windy and wet. It must be hard to walk a wire when it's windy and wet.

WALLENDA: And also the other thing that is a misconception is that when it's moist or wet that the wire becomes slippery. Well, it's actually just opposite to that. Our wire shoes are suede leather. Well, if you take suede leather and put it on a piece of steel, and put moisture on it, it actually sticks.

SIMON: Does this involve crossing an international border?

WALLENDA: We actually bring our own safety people in so they don't get in harm's way. If anything were to happen to me I have my own helicopter pilot on standby. I've got my own dive team, so that no one locally would be in harm's way at any point.

SIMON: Well, I'm sorry I called you a daredevil.

WALLENDA: To do this walk, I believe it's around 2,000 feet, to go from the U.S. to Canada, I would train walking a wire almost 8,000 feet, to over-train for this.

SIMON: Do you have a timeframe in mind?

WALLENDA: We don't have a timeframe yet. We have a full year from the date that Governor Cuomo signs off on the bill. And it is a process, so there's no way to put a date on it yet.

SIMON: Well, Mr. Wallenda, good luck to you, sir.

WALLENDA: Well, thank you so much. Thank you for having me on.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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