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. That’s my savior. That’s Jesus.”
On Saturday, Wallenda will be at Charlotte Motor Speedway, to perform on the high wire with his sister, Lijana. They’ll 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. Where’s your head when you’re in such peril? You appeared to be praying the whole time.
A. I’ve walked the wire since I was 2 years old. We’ve done it (as a family) for about seven generations over 200 years. So it’s not like I feel I’m 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 there’s a lot of power in that name. But a lot of what I do comes from training. I don’t believe in any way that God holds me on that wire as if I’m 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. I’ve seen my great-grandfather walking where he was talking to God. Who else do you talk to when you’re 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 you’re actually on the wire?
A. The Bible says pray without ceasing. And that’s what I do in life. I’ll 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. There’s me and that wire. I don’t even think about the cameras and the microphone and all that stuff. I think that’s why people respect it so much – the fact that it’s not forced. It’s not like I’m trying to preach the word or shove the Bible down people’s 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 don’t see what I do as being a daredevil. I am doing something I’ve prepared for my entire life. There’s a lot of science and a lot of engineering. Yes, I’m 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 doesn’t give you pause?
A. I’ve lost my great-grandfather and I’ve lost some of my uncles. There’s risk in everything that we do. I think we should live every day like it’s 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 I’ll 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 I’ll 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. It’s kind of like our religion or beliefs. You can’t learn the Bible enough. But in a normal, perfect setting, with no wind and the wire rigged to the right tension and stabilized properly, it’s 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.