UNIVERSITY PARK -- Hundreds of people pressed up against the fence with cameras, iPads and cellphones in hand to catch one last glimpse of the "King of the High Wire" practice before his Chicago tightrope walk Sunday.
In front of a large crowd of supporters, Nik Wallenda had his final practice at 6 p.m. Monday at Nathan Benderson Park, where he's been rehearsing since Oct. 8.
"I've trained my whole life for this stuff so really, at this point, it's up to Mother Nature about whether it wants to behave or not," Wallenda said after concluding his training. "There's not much I can do other than the amount of training I've done."
Wallenda is part of the renowned Sarasota acrobat family, "The Flying Wallendas," famed for aerial feats and tightrope walking without a safety net.
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Wallenda arrives Wednesday evening in Chicago and will walk four days later
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 walk on tightrope -- blindfolded -- to the other Marina Towers building.
The walk will be televised begininng at 7 p.m. Sunday on the Discovery Channel.
"I wouldn't be going if I didn't think I was ready," Wallenda said.
One of two tightropes Wallenda has been training blindfolded on was packed earlier in the afternoon and loaded into a truck headed to Chicago. A duplicate tightrope is already in Chicago. As soon as Wallenda concluded his practice walk Monday, his crews began tearing down the last of the three tightropes.
To give the spectators the full experience, Wallenda walked three-fourths of the way up the tightrope blindfolded before he took a knee and threw the black blindfold down to his father, Terry Troffer, standing under the tightrope.
For Venice resident Sara Burnette, it was a personal experience to watch Wallenda practice and then meet him. Burnette, who has had cancer twice in the last seven years, said Wallenda been an inspiration -- especially when she found out she had cancer for a second time.
"When I watched Nik on the Grand Canyon, he inspired me to keep going and never give up," Burnette said.
Burnette said she was not nervous watching Wallenda practice but she will be when she watches him Sunday on TV.
"I will be nervous because Chicago is always windy but I know he will do great," she said.
Bradenton resident Warren Gregg said he wouldn't be able to "sleep for months if I was going to look down on Chicago like that."
Kathleen Johnson of Sarasota said she will be sitting on the edge of her seat as she watches Wallenda in Chicago.
"We hope he makes it safely and comes home to his family and community," she said.
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.