UNIVERSITY PARK -- Nik Wallenda's roots are planted in Sarasota. He is part of the renowned Sarasota acrobat family, "The Flying Wallendas," famed for aerial feats and tightrope-walking without a safety net.
Since Oct. 8, when Wallenda began practicing at Nathan Benderson Park for his next tightrope walk, the Sarasota and Manatee county communities have shown up to the park to cheer on Wallenda.
While his three-week-long practice schedule concludes at 6 p.m. Monday, the hometown support will persevere on until Sunday, Nov. 2 when Wallenda's Chicago tightrope walk will be televised at 7 p.m. on the Discovery Channel. "It means a lot," Wallenda said of his community coming to watch him practice.
"That's the reason why I train out in the public. Their support means more than anything to me. Knowing that I have my home town backing me and supporting me the entire way, it means a lot."
Sarasota resident Jane Hindall has been a fan of Wallenda's for some time -- she watched his Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls walks and plans to tune in to watch his Chicago walk. On Thursday, Hindall came to Benderson Park to watch Wallenda practice for the third time.
"I love it," she said. "I think Nik does a lot of very good things for Sarasota and Bradenton."
High wire walk in Chicago
On Nov. 2, Wallenda plans to walk from one of two Marina Towers buildings in downtown Chicago, then travel more than two city blocks across the Chicago River on an uphill 15-degree angle to the Leo Burnett Building. Then, Wallenda will work on tightrope -- blindfolded -- to the other Marina Towers building.
At Thursday's practice, shirts for Wallenda's Chicago "Skyscraper Live" walk were sold for the first time. Wallenda's crew estimated that about 260 Chicago shirts were brought to Thursday's practice.
Hindall purchased one of the shirts for her family friend who lives in one of the Marina Towers buildings in Chicago. Wallenda's rope will be tied onto his porch, Hindall said.
In addition to the community support during his practices, local businesses have shown their support of the local resident by providing Wallenda and his family with meals. Underneath Wallenda's tightropes at Benderson Park, there are advertisements for local business including Skookum rigging, Floral App, Tri County Air Conditioning and Heating and a Sarasota Ford pickup truck.
"Everybody reaches out," Wallenda said. "They just believe in me and I believe in them. I believe in supporting local businesses as much as possible."
Bellacino's Grinders, Filippo's Pizzeria and Valentino Pizzeria Trattoria are among the restaurants that have kept Wallenda fed during the last couple weeks, according to Wallenda's Twitter account.
Valentino Pizzeria Trattoria has provided Wallenda and his family with two meals in the last couple weeks as he is a regular customer at the restaurant, manager Kristin Whitson said.
"He's a good man," she said, adding that they supported him during his last walk, as well. "He's a good family man. He's local and being local business owners ourselves we try to support anyone local and we believe in what he's doing."
Because Wallenda and his family are frequent customers of Bellacino's Grinders, the restaurant provided them with a meal as they have in the past, said David Martin, the restaurant's manager.
"He's a good friend of the owner," Martin said. "The owner wanted to show his support."
Sarasota Ford has also shown its support of Wallenda's latest feat by lending him a Super Duty truck to use.
"The biggest thing is that he loves trucks and we love what he is doing and love being a part of what he is doing," said Matt Buchanan, operating partner at Sarasota Ford. "He's an awesome person. We get behind people that make our community better."
Last week, Wallenda tweeted a photo of him carrying a Sarasota Ford sign as he walked across the tightrope in practice.
But Buchanan said when Wallenda walked across the wire with the sign, he didn't know he was going to do it until he saw the photograph after the fact.
Because Wallenda gives back to the Sarasota community as a volunteer at The Circus Arts Conservatory, Buchanan said he wanted to partner with Wallenda in his latest challenge.
"He puts the community and puts the kids first because that's really important," Buchanan said. "Kids are 100 percent of our future. How can you not like Nik Wallenda? He's very down to earth and with how talented he is, he is the most down to earth person I've met."
Buchanan said he's talking with Wallenda about possible monetary partnerships in the future.
"We are discussing options now," Buchanan said, adding that this is good for the dealership because it gets publicity. "The wires that he walks on have to be the best and that's why he drives a Ford truck."
Claire Aronson, University Parkway/Sarasota reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.