Wallenda ready for windy Chicago tightrope walks

Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — With Chicago’s chilling winds howling in the background, tightrope walker Nik Wallenda declared Friday he’s ready to attempt two back-to-back skyscraper crossings, one of them blindfolded.

For Sunday’s televised walks, the 35-year-old daredevil promised to uphold the “Flying Wallendas” family tradition of working without a net or harness. City officials said they’ve decided a state law requiring safety nets for aerial acts higher than 20 feet wasn’t intended for “elite” performers like him.

“For generations, we have walked without nets,” Wallenda told reporters at the aptly named Vertigo Sky Lounge. “It is hard for others to comprehend. But I’m confident that the wire is a safe haven and a net for me.” He would crouch to the safety of the quarter-size-diameter cable, he said, and hold on if winds whip too hard.

The Discovery Channel will use a 10-second delay for the broadcast, allowing producers to cut away if something goes wrong. Millions of viewers around the world are expected to watch.

First, Wallenda will walk uphill at a 15-degree angle from the nearly 600-foot Marina City west tower, one of the twin corncob-shaped buildings, across the Chicago River to the top of the Leo Burnett Building. That walk is 454 feet from point to point, more than two city blocks.

Then he’ll walk between the two Marina City towers wearing a blindfold, a shorter walk of 94 feet.

The city’s notorious winds attracted him, Wallenda said Friday as a brewing storm triggered a high wind warning from the National Weather Service. “I’m glad I’m not walking today,” he said with a smile.

If gusts of 50 mph or higher are forecast Sunday, the walks will be postponed. In lesser winds, he will walk, using his balancing pole to steady himself.

A rescue crew will be ready to help should wind force Wallenda to lower himself and cling to the steel wire. He’s trained himself to be able to hold on up to 20 minutes in an emergency.

Chicago officials consider the event like any other film or TV production in the city, said Mary May, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Officials have been helping coordinate permits, road closures and troubleshooting logistics with the telecast’s production team.

“This will be great for the city,” May said. “A global broadcast will showcase Chicago and its riverfront, skyline and attractions.”

An Illinois law, the Aerial Exhibitors Safety Act, bars high-wire acts from working without safety nets. City officials have decided that law was intended to protect performers from being forced to work in unsafe conditions against their will.

“That scenario clearly does not apply to Mr. Wallenda, who belongs in a unique and elite class of performers, and whose decision to perform without a net is entirely his own,” May said in an email.

Residents of Marina City have been asked not to use laser pointers, camera flashes or drones that could interfere. Even grilling has been prohibited.

“That’s no fun,” Wallenda said Friday. “I was hoping to stop at barbecues on the way up.”

He welcomed spectators and hopes there are thousands. Said Wallenda, “The more cheering the better.”

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