SARASOTA -- Compared with walking blindfolded more than 500 feet above the ground in the Chicago wind, Saturday's walk more than 100 feet over the renovated Sarasota Ford dealership seems like a cakewalk.
But for Nik Wallenda, there are still the nerves.
"It doesn't matter if you are 30 feet off the ground or 10,000 feet off the ground, the dangers are really still the same," Wallenda told the Bradenton Herald on Thursday morning. "I can't afford to look at them any differently. Any walk. I always use the example of my great-grandfather who lost his life on a walk that was tiny in comparison to the other walks that he did.
"But the risks are still the same," he added. "And if I come to the point where I don't respect them the same, then that's when it is extremely dangerous."
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In his first performance since returning from the Nov. 2 Skyscraper Live event in Chicago, the "King of the High Wire" will walk an estimated 200 yards from the south end of the Sarasota Ford dealership, over the renovated facility and finishing in the used-vehicle lot at 5 p.m. Saturday as part of dealership's grand-opening event. The free walk will be at Sarasota Ford, 707 S. Washington Blvd., as part of the 3-7 p.m. event.
Wallenda, a Manatee County resident, is part of the renowned acrobat family "The Flying Wallendas," famed for aerial feats and tightrope-walking without a safety net. Wallenda's great-grandfather Karl, fell to his death March 22, 1978, from a wire 10 stories high in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was 73.
It is this tragedy that Wallenda keeps in the back of his mind when preparing for all walks regardless of distance above the ground.
Welcome home, Nik
On Saturday, Sarasota and Manatee fans will have their chance to welcome Wallenda home.
"Nothing more fun than being able to perform in front of home crowd and doing something exciting," Wallenda said. "An opportunity to perform at home is always fun and exciting so I am looking forward to that. ... I love this community. I love this area. We will continue to hopefully perform for many, many years to come. There is something special about performing in my hometown."
In addition to Wallenda's tightrope walk Saturday, the Circus Arts Conservatory, where Wallenda volunteers, will perform circus events.
"It's fun," Wallenda said of his walk being part of the other circus acts. "I was (at the Circus Arts Conservatory) last night doing a little coaching. Anytime I can hopefully inspire those kids that there is even more out there. There is a future in what they are training for. That's what it is all about. My career is absolutely about giving back at this point."
Besides practicing for Saturday's walk, Wallenda has been preparing for February's Circus Sarasota event at Nathan Benderson Park where they will re-construct a seven-person pyramid on the wire.
"It is exciting that we are putting the seven-person pyramid back together," he said. "I am all about challenging myself."
Wallenda is training five of the other people who will be participating; he is not training his sister. Four of them have never performed the maneuver before.
"It is exciting that I can train somebody that's never walked a wire before and within a year, they can accomplish a feat that very few people in the world have accomplish," he said.
Wallenda also has plans to follow in his great-grandfather's footsteps and do the wirewalk and headstand performance at Georgia's Tallulah Gorge next summer. While he couldn't disclose the details, Wallenda said he is also working on "another really exciting walk for next year" that he hopes "will come to fruition very, very soon."
"It is definitely my intention," Wallenda said. "That's what I am working toward. It is such a special walk that I almost think it should be my retirement walk at the 50-year anniversary. Next year is the 45-year anniversary. There's always stuff going in my mind but I am still pursuing it."
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.