'We could die,' Nik Wallenda, age 12, on life as a daredevil

wtatangelo@bradenton.comJune 10, 2012 

The Sarasotan making headlines around the world calls himself King of the High Wire.

And for good reason.

Nik Wallenda, who makes his nationally televised skywalk over Niagara Falls on Friday, already holds a Guinness World Record, set in 2008, for the longest distance and greatest height ever traveled by bicycle on a high wire.

About two years later he survived a death-defying high wire walk between One Watergate Condominium and Sarasota's Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

The stunt spanned more than 600 feet across at about 200 feet high in the air.

No net.

No tether.

Even before ABC insisted Wallenda wear a safety harness for Friday's tightrope walk, he displayed no fear during interviews conducted during high wire practice sessions near Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel in New York.

"My family has been doing this for seven generations," the member of the famed Flying Wallendas would say.

"I was born doing it."

"It's really all I know."

"It's in my blood, it's who I am and I can't imagine doing anything else."

You get the message.

The hometown hero, who will be watched by friends, neighbors and relatives on a big screen during a free street party Friday outside Mattison's City Grille in downtown Sarasota, exudes confidence.

But jump back a couple decades and this Wallenda didn't see the high wire in his future.

Nik told a reporter in 1991 he dreamed about being a pilot and that the circus life wasn't for him.

Too dangerous, he said.

The Wallendas were performing at Fayette County Fairgrounds in Pennsylvania.

Nik warmed up the crowd with a clown act.

At age 12, he was still too young for the 30-foot wire, the same wire from which his great-grandfather, the legendary Karl Wallenda, fell to his death while performing in Puerto Rico in 1978.

Nik finished his skit, then announced:

"For generations, the Wallenda family has experienced great triumphs and suffered devastating tragedies. But one thing above all others was taught by the patriarch of the family, and that is never give up!"

Nik's mom, Delilah Wallenda, who still lives near her son in Sarasota, dressed in all pink sequins

while doing splits and high kicks on a stainless-steel cable a mere 5/8-inch in diameter.

Next, her husband, Terry Troffer, now Nik's safety coordinator, walked the high wire.

Then came Lijana, age 14 at the time, she had just recently been allowed to join the act.

Delilah and Terry previously performed with her grandfather, Karl, and both worked as doubles in the 1978 TV movie "The Great Wallendas" before striking out on their own.

Delilah and Terry said they decided not to push their children to perform on the wire.

"They have to want it," Mom said.

Nik, at the time, didn't.

Too dangerous.

"It's just not worth it," he said. "We're risking our lives out there. We could die."

But Nik soon had a change of heart, making his first professional wire performance at age 13, according to the bio page on his website.

After briefly considering a medical career, he committed to the life of an aerialist at age 19.

"It was in 1998 when members of my family -- including my father, Terry Troffer, and my mother, Delilah Wallenda -- recreated the seven-person pyramid on a high wire in Detroit after many decades of the act's retirement," Nik says in his bio.

"I knew then what I was born to do."

Bradenton Herald archives and Nik Wallenda publicity material were used in this report.

Wade Tatangelo, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057. Follow Twitter.com/wtatangelo.

IF YOU GO

What: "Above the Falls & Beyond Belief ... Celebrating the Wallenda Walk over Niagara Falls with Mattison's and Circus Sarasota"

When: 6 p.m. to midnight (Nik Wallenda's walk broadcast live on ABC via the JumboTron at 9 p.m.) June 15.

Where: Lemon Avenue between Main Street and First Street, downtown Sarasota.

Details: The street party, which is free and open to the public, will feature a variety of circus performances by international circus artists and youth performers from the Sailor Circus. This event also offers hands-on family friendly circus activities including balloon making, face-painting, hula hoops, jugglers, tightrope walking, prize drawings, silent auction and more. Mattison's City Grille will offer live music, dancing and a variety of food and drink specials. A VIP Wallenda Walk Three-Ring Dinner Menu and Reserved Seating is catered by Chef Paul Mattison and offers reserved VIP seating. Tickets are $100 (plus tax and tip ­-- $50 tax deductible). The VIP Wallenda Walk Menu benefits Circus Sarasota. Seating is very limited and advance purchase required. For reservations and information call 941-921-3400 or purchase tickets for the VIP seating online at www.mattisons.com.

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