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Nik Wallenda set for volcano tightrope walk

February 26, 2020
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High-wire artist Nik Wallenda says he may not be able to top his next feat: An 1,800-foot tightrope walk over Masaya Volcano - an active lava and sulfur-spewing volcano in Nicaragua. On March 4 at 8 p.m., ABC plans to air “Volcano Live! With Nik Wallenda,” a two-hour event culminating in Wallenda’s longest, highest and most challenging tightrope walk to date.

The seventh generation of The Great Wallendas (and Flying Wallendas) family aerial troupe of high-wire artists, Nik Wallenda holds 11 Guinness World Records, and is the first person to walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls and the first to cross a Grand Canyon gorge. Last June, Wallenda became the first person to cross New York City’s Times Square on a tightrope strung 25 stories above the streets, during a performance with his sister Lijana.

During a 2011 joint tightrope walk with his mother Delilah, Wallenda successfully navigated a wire strung between the twin towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico – a 121-foot high walk that took the life of his great-grandfather Karl Wallenda during an attempt in March of 1978.

As Nik revealed during the following interview with The Maine Edge, he lives each day by the words of his great-grandfather: “Life is on the wire, and everything else is just waiting.”

Wallenda’s training regimen for his upcoming walk across the Masaya Volcano has been fraught with new challenges being discovered on a daily basis, he says, while apologizing if he sounds tired during the interview. A newly discovered challenge kept him awake for most of the night before, as he explains.

The Maine Edge: What sorts of challenges are involved in preparing for a feat like this?

Wallenda: There’s a long list of challenges, and it seems to be growing by the day. Active lava spews a lot of volcanic gases, and in those gases are very harmful chemicals that will actually burn your eyes, so I have to wear goggles. They can also be so thick you can’t see, so part of my training involves keeping my eyes closed. Because the oxygen levels are so thin in those gases, I have to wear a gas mask and an oxygen tank to supplement my oxygen intake. That’s a challenge in itself because I’ll be carrying more bulk. Because we’ll be dealing with winds, I need to stay as streamlined as possible.

A new concern that’s been brought up is the fact that these gases have a chemical in the moisture that can adhere to the wire and make it slippery, and that’s why I didn’t sleep last night. We’ll be adding to my training regimen as of today, because walking on a slippery wire is something I’ve certainly never practiced before. A wet wire, yes, but a slippery wire? Not so much. This isn’t manufactured excitement or drama made for TV; these challenges are real and the fact that I am losing sleep is the truth.

The Maine Edge: What happens if you can’t sleep the night before this walk? That must be another of your concerns. How do you keep stray thoughts of failure from entering your mind when you need to stay focused?

Wallenda: It can be tough, and it is your worst nightmare. It is me living out a nightmare often depending on the situation. If the wire is stable and Mother Nature works with me, then it’s a thrill and it’s fun and exciting. Leading up to it, my mind wants to go to that nightmare. I have to continually live it leading up to the moment and it’s a huge challenge.

I live by the words my great grandfather - “Life is on the wire and everything else is just waiting.” Those words have become so much more real to me with this walk. I can’t wait to get to that moment, and that’s mainly because the sooner I get to it, the sooner it will be completed.

I’m writing a book right now on overcoming fear, which is the battle of the mind, and that’s something that I deal with. It involves controlling my thoughts and allowing them to go where I want them to go, and not go where I don’t want them to go; it’s a huge challenge.

The Maine Edge: There will be no safety net, but will you have any emergency safety mechanisms in place?

Wallenda: My network partner, ABC, requires me to wear some sort of a safety, but one of my concerns is that the safety is going to cause issues. When I did the walk over Times Square, my network partner there made me wear a safety which was directly overhead.

On this walk, the safety actually isn’t straight. Because of the way it’s stabilizing this unique setting in the caldera of this volcano, it actually jogs over 24 feet in one direction. My tether is straight, so now I have a tether 24 feet away and my concern is that it could actually pull me off the wire, which is a huge concern.

If I were to lose my balance and actually use that tether, I would be 24 feet out from the wire; I don’t know how my rescue team would get to me. These are all challenges we’re discovering daily as my rigging goes up and my team realizes that we have a new issue.

The Maine Edge: Do you think you’ll see the day when you realize you won’t be able to top yourself?

Wallenda: I’ll tell you I’m pretty close to that. I honestly don’t think there’s a way to top walking across an active volcano, because of the layer upon layer upon layer of challenges that come with it. At this point, there are a lot of parallels – like walking across Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon – this is both of those combined and more.

(“Volcano Live! With Nik Wallenda” is scheduled to air on March 4 at 8 p.m. on ABC. Wallenda encourages you to follow his journey @NikWallenda on social media.)

Last modified on Wednesday, 26 February 2020 08:05

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