SARASOTA, Fla. — Famed aerialist Nik Wallenda, a tiny blur against a clear blue sky, paused before completing his latest death-defying wire walk. Gusts of wind bent the palm trees far below.
Gasps became audible.
Spectators imagined the worst: “My stomach just dropped,” Donna Enright said.
But the 34-year-old Wallenda, dressed in a form-fitting yellow shirt and blue jeans, took a knee toward the end of his skywalk merely for showmanship.
He had no trouble Tuesday with his stroll high above over U.S. 41 in downtown Sarasota.
Wallenda completed his stunt across the busy Sarasota street that closed a mere 15 minutes before the skywalk started.
Donna Enright and husband, Steve Enright, who have a home on Siesta Key, were impressed.
“That was pretty amazing,” Steve said. “I thought they were going to cancel it because of the wind.”
Wallenda, clutching a balancing pole and wearing a gold cross around his neck, traversed about 600 feet of open space at a height of 200 feet. Lifted by a crane positioned by the Unconditional Surrender “kissing statue,” he climbed out of the machine’s metal basket and onto the wire, where he walked on a slight decline to the top of the Marina Tower building.
The high wire act, watched by hundreds of nervous attendees of all ages — including Wallenda’s wife and fellow skywalker, Erendira, their three young children and his mom, Delilah Troffer.
Wallenda completed the skywalk, without a net or safety tether, in about seven minutes.
“It was pretty gusty up there,” he said during a post-skywalk press conference. “I’d say 25-30 mph winds.”
Wallenda, whose stunt was done primarily to promote his upcoming appearance and ongoing work with Circus Sarasota, is a six-time Guinness world record holder for aerial feats.
He wire-walked across Niagara Falls last year on national TV.
In February 2010, Wallenda, the star of that season’s Circus Sarasota, survived his death-defying hire-wire walk between One Watergate Condominium and Sarasota’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
But not all Wallenda family stunts have been successful.
In 1962, a seven-person chair pyramid collapsed in Detroit, throwing three of the Wallendas to the ground, killing Richard Faughnan and Dieter Schepp. Karl Wallenda, the patriarch of the family, injured his pelvis. Mario Wallenda was paralyzed and has been in a wheelchair for 50 years.
In 1978, Karl plunged 10 stories to his death during a walk between two buildings in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was 73.
Wallenda said he plans to retire from skywalking at age 50. But not before conquering the Grand Canyon. “I’m close to announcing a date,” he said with a smile.
Asked if the skywalks had become routine, he responded, “Absolutely not. Every single one, I’m risking my life.”