For nearly 23 minutes in June, Nik Wallenda walked along a 2-inch wire high above as in 1,500 feet above a gorge near the Grand Canyon.
As viewers breathlessly followed his trek, live on the Discovery Channel, they heard Wallenda, 34, offer non-stop prayers to Jesus.
A sampling: Definitely whipping that cable Golly, wind. Go away, in the name of Jesus Thank you, Lord. Thank you for calming that cable, Lord Oh, yeah. Thats my savior. Thats Jesus.
On Saturday, Wallenda will be at Charlotte Motor Speedway, to perform on the high wire with his sister, Lijana. Theyll be 140 feet above pit road during the pre-race show for the Bank of America 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
The Bradenton-based skywalker, who comes from a circus family and counts televangelist Joel Osteen among his friends, answered questions from the Observer about how his faith fits with what many call his daredevil stunts.
Here are his answers, edited for length.
Q. Watching you walking over the Grand Canyon, I was nervous. Wheres your head when youre in such peril? You appeared to be praying the whole time.
A. Ive walked the wire since I was 2 years old. Weve done it (as a family) for about seven generations over 200 years. So its not like I feel Im in peril. But I find my peace and comfort in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So I will call out his name. I believe theres a lot of power in that name. But a lot of what I do comes from training. I dont believe in any way that God holds me on that wire as if Im a puppet. I believe that God has given me a very unique talent and I can use it to glorify his name.
Q. Was your circus family always religious?
A. The last couple of generations have been. Ive seen my great-grandfather walking where he was talking to God. Who else do you talk to when youre up there?
Q. Do you have a spiritual regimen right before each walk?
A. People say, Are you superstitious? Not in any way. The only thing I do is I say a prayer with my family. Often, I lead that prayer, just praying that God will get the glory out of what I do, in one way or the other.
Q. Sounds like you have a conversation with God while youre actually on the wire?
A. The Bible says pray without ceasing. And thats what I do in life. Ill be driving my truck around and talking (aloud) to Jesus, saying Thank you Jesus, thank you Lord. When I am on the wire, it really is a personal zone. Theres me and that wire. I dont even think about the cameras and the microphone and all that stuff. I think thats why people respect it so much the fact that its not forced. Its not like Im trying to preach the word or shove the Bible down peoples throats. This is just a guy calling on God and finding his comfort and his peace.
Q. Given your faith, what do you think when people call you a daredevil?
A. I dont see what I do as being a daredevil. I am doing something Ive prepared for my entire life. Theres a lot of science and a lot of engineering. Yes, Im risking my life. But so are you when you get in your car after you leave home. The biggest (blowback) I get is from those who are overly religious and who will say, How dare you! You are tempting God. I in no way am tempting God
Q. But some in your family have died. That doesnt give you pause?
A. Ive lost my great-grandfather and Ive lost some of my uncles. Theres risk in everything that we do. I think we should live every day like its our last because then you tend to love more and care more about your family. When I leave my house to go to the store, I give my wife and kids a hug and a kiss and say, I love you guys and Ill see you in a bit. Before I get on that cable, I give my wife and kids a kiss and I say, I love you and Ill see you in a bit.
Q. Do you see what you do as a ministry?
A. Absolutely. I get thousands upon thousands of letters from people who were inspired, touched. I called a woman with cancer who wrote me, and she now treats her daily walk with cancer the same way, calling out to Jesus and trusting in him for peace.
Q. After walking a tightrope over the Grand Canyon and Niagra Falls, walking over Charlotte Motor Speedway would seem to be a piece of cake for you?
A. You can never become complacent. Its kind of like our religion or beliefs. You cant learn the Bible enough. But in a normal, perfect setting, with no wind and the wire rigged to the right tension and stabilized properly, its no different than walking on the ground.
Q. You seem fearless. Does anything scare you?
A. I have a fear of God and a fear of my wife.