CHICAGO (AP) — Nik Wallenda is all about spectacle, a showman who crossed Niagara Falls and an Arizona gorge on a high wire and now has his sights on Chicago's iconic skyscrapers — partly because of the city's reputation for being windy.
Never mind that many historians believe the Windy City nickname was coined because of blowhard politicians. The chance to tread between buildings 50 stories above the city and over the Chicago River — amid glittering lights and on live television aired in 220 countries — was just the kind of encore he was looking for, Wallenda said Wednesday, one day after announcing his Nov. 2 feat that will be broadcast on the Discovery Channel.
"I enjoy taking it up a notch," Wallenda, 35, a member of "The Flying Wallendas" family, told The Associated Press. "Chicago is home of the world's first skyscraper and my family is often referred to as the first family of the high wire. Then there's the Windy City ... which just sounds cool: Nik Wallenda is going to walk in the Windy City."
He plans to traverse between one of the city's Marina Towers, twin corncob-shaped buildings on the north side of the river, to the 635-foot-tall Leo Burnett Building, without a harness or net. It will be the second-highest walk of his career, after the Little Colorado River Gorge, near the Grand Canyon, and will be done at a 15-degree incline, steeper than any previous walk. Wallenda will then will cross the river at ground level and make a second tightrope walk between Marina Towers.
Wallenda said weather always is his biggest challenge. So he'll practice at his training camp in Sarasota, Florida, with wind machines that can be cranked up to 120 mph — though he won't attempt the actual feat if winds are over 50 mph.
On the day of his walk, "it just becomes nothing but a mental game," he said. "I know I can walk the distance, I know I can walk on the cable ... I know I can walk uphill, but then there's the mental challenge and my mind wants to wander, like: What if it's cold? And what if it's wet and icy?"
Wallenda said he's had the full cooperation of city officials — including an endorsement from Mayor Rahm Emanuel — though he still doesn't know if the city will waive a state law requiring a safety net. He said Chicago could benefit from the publicity.
"It's art to me," he said "I'm painting a picture, hopefully an inspirational picture (for people) that no matter what their dreams are that they can fulfill them ... as long as they work hard enough at it."
It's also about family tradition, and pushing the limits. Wallenda's grandfather, Karl Wallenda, died after falling from a tightrope in Puerto Rico in 1978.
"I just follow my heart and what I feel will be fascinating," said Wallenda. "I do what I feel will inspire and impress people; that's my job as an entertainer."