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Nik Wallenda Faces His Fear while Balancing on a Wire

The Great Wallenda Legacy

Nik is a seventh-generation member of the Great Wallendas who trace their roots back to the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1780. His grandfather, Karl, brought the Wallendas to America. Karl’s crowning achievement was the seven-person chair pyramid: four men standing on a wire as two pairs with two more men standing on their shoulder bars holding a woman sitting, then standing on a chair at the top of the pyramid. The Wallendas successfully performed it for decades until January 30, 1962 when the front man on the wire faltered and three men fell to the ground, two to their deaths. Karl’s son was paralyzed. Karl continued performing on the high wire until a tragic accident in 1978 when at 73 he fell to his death. It was not because of his age, capabilities, or the wind that day, but because of bad rigging, a reason Nik and his father always oversee every inch of rigging themselves.     

From the time he was little Nik knew he wanted to be an aerialist like the generations before him. His first performance was in 1981 at age 2 as a tiny clown carried around in a pillow case. He also began walking the wire that same year but was not permitted to perform professionally on a high wire until age 13. When Nik was 18, he decided to carry on the family profession and eventually expanded their audience by taking the family business to the masses in a new way: television. In Nik’s career he has replicated some of the more famous acts from his family’s history. In 2011, he and his mother successfully completed the exact same walk his grandfather died from in 1978. Then in 1998 Nik successfully recreated the seven-person pyramid (which his grandfather’s son had fallen from back in 1962 and was paralyzed). Nik has performed live in every state in the USA and all over the world. He has garnered the support from tens of millions of live viewers in network television specials on ABC, The Discovery Channel and others.  

The Accident

In 2017, Nik decided to go for a world-record attempt by doing an eight-person pyramid walk at a greater height than ever before, but the unthinkable happened. The pyramid crashed injuring several members of his troupe and family including his sister, Lijuana, a seasoned aerialist. Nik was able to grab the wire and escape injury, but Lijana’s injuries were life threatening. Every bone in her face was broken and her kidneys and liver were bleeding. The horror of the fall took root in Nik’s mind and so did fear.

Growing up in a Christian family of aerial performers Nik had a full awareness of two types of fear: healthy and unhealthy. His family trained and drilled and practiced like no one else in the business so that when he set foot on the wire he was not scared because he was working his craft. An unhealthy fear is the psychological response to fear or danger. “The emotion of fear doesn’t protect; it prevents,” shares Nik. His family tried to protect him from this type of fear since it could take his life on the wire. Nik learned to master his psychological response to fear and compartmentalize some of the dangers he faced when on the wire. 

Back on the Wire

His ability to compartmentalize allowed him to walk the high wire the night after the accident. As a man of integrity Nik wanted to honor his show contracts. A huge challenge on his horizon was a seven-person pyramid act in New York City. With his family members sidelined because of the accident he had to find new talent for the show. He was demanding of the new walkers who joined his troupe. One day Nik blew up at his team. It was then he realized that he had stuck his unhealthy fear in a box but it was still affecting him. “I had to confront my fear and learn to deal with it,” says Nik. He apologized to his team. Nik felt numb since the accident. Often times when you don’t deal with what you are experiencing you can slip into a numbness that derails you down the road. Psychologists call this depersonalization-derealization disorder – a response to severe or intense distress. After the accident, Nik was dealing with a tremendous amount of stress. His team was scattered around in different hospitals, he was answering questions for the press, performing, and spending time in the hospital with injured family members.

While practicing for the upcoming pyramid Nik noticed the wire was shaking. “I was afraid – and I felt it all the way through my body. There was no compartment where I could stuff it anymore – it had taken root in my mental garden and was revealing itself in full force, choking out every other thought,” recalls Nik. He began to talk with his wife and a friend about his fear. He also listened to praise music which helped him reconnect with God and find peace. Gradually, he noticed his stress level decreased and his confidence level increased. Nik’s life motto is “never give up.” He carries this message with him in every walk with the purpose of inspiring people around the world to follow their dreams. 

In June 2019, Nik and Lijana (who recovered from her injuries) were the first people to walk over New York City’s Time Square which aired live. He conquered another incredible feat in March 2020 when he walked over the active Masaya Volcano live. This was the longest and most dangerous walk of Nik’s career. As he got closer to completing the walk he began thanking God for bringing him through the fire and through the storm safely. All of his praise to God plus Nik singing several songs was captured on live television because the network kept his microphone open during the entire walk.
Confronting Fear

You don’t have to live with fear. Nik shares a healthy process for facing your fears and learning how to move past it:

  • Call your fear by name – it loses its power when it’s connected to a thought or idea. Give your fear a name and you’ll be able to find a solution. 
  • Talk about your fear out loud – the more you talk about your fear, the more you can rob the fear of its emotional power. 
  • Take control of your thoughts – learn to discipline your mind by taking control of what you think.
  • Take control of your emotions – when your thinking is health and upbeat it is much easier to guide your emotions.

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