Twenty-six million eyeballs focused squarely on Discovery Channel screens late last month as Nik Wallenda once again put his life on the line.
This time, the aerialist extraordinaire expertly ambled across a 2-inch-thick steel cable 1,500 feet above the Little Colorado River Gorge near the Grand Canyon in characteristic Wallenda style — without a safety net or harness.
In his latest and arguably most dramatic man-against-nature spectacle yet, Wallenda once again prevailed, wowing the world.
Americans’ intense fascination and awe over the high-wire daredevil’s achievement are completely understandable. Wallenda walks as a human metaphor of grit, resilience, independence, diligence, determination, faith and family pride. As we applaud his accomplishments, we also applaud those traits that typify American greatness.
Greatness in overcoming high challenges has long been a genetic leaf on the Wallenda family tree. For nearly 100 years, The Flying Wallendas circus and aerial act has held the nation and the world breathlessly spellbound.
The Wallendas have been a long-time staple of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. But 34-year-old Nik, however, has gone solo on many feats to earn eight Guinness world records for his death-defying performances. Before last month’s spectacle, Wallenda last year became the first person in history to walk over Niagara Falls from the United States to Canada on a high wire.
In 2008, Wallenda set Guinness world records for longest and highest bicycle ride on a high-wire 250-foot-long ride at 135 feet above the ground in New Jersey. He nearly doubled the height record in 2010 to 260 feet. In 2011, Wallenda performed on the Wheel of Death atop Atlantic City’s 23-story Tropicana Casino and Resort.
Clearly, Nik sets the bar amazingly high.
THE POWER OF FAITH
But as we celebrate his resilience and dogged determination, many of us also celebrate his faith in a power even higher than the amazing heights of his aerial feats. Throughout his 22- minute and 54-second walk across the gorge, the aerialist repeatedly prayed.
“Thank you Lord. Thank you for calming that cable, God,” The Associated Press quoted Wallenda as saying as he had reached halfway through the tightrope. Clearly, Wallenda’s Christian faith plays a major role in balancing his work and in balancing his life.
In his memoir, “Balance: A Story of Faith, Family, and Life on the Line,” the high-wire artist writes, “I believe that God gives us the power to transform any story from darkness to light.”
That faith also gave Wallenda the motivation and strength to overcome potential calamity. “It was strenuous the whole way across. It was a battle. The winds were strong, they were gusty,” he told reporters. “But there was never a point where I thought, ‘oh my gosh, I’m going to fall.’”
Falling and failing simply are not in his character.
It is that confidence in the face of death-defying odds at which many of us marvel. As he prepares for his next major feat – a tightrope walk high across the Manhattan skyline between the iconic Chrysler and Empire State buildings – Americans and those who celebrate the elasticity and fortitude of the human spirit again will stare in awe and amazement. In so doing, they again will celebrate the soaring heights toward which the human spirit can ascend.