Tightrope Walker Nik Wallenda Takes on Chicago

On November 2, Nik Wallenda will attempt his most audacious feat yet: walking across Chicago's skyscrapers.
On November 2, Nik Wallenda will attempt his most audacious feat yet: walking across Chicago's skyscrapers. Jeff Willhelm / Charlotte Observer / MCT

On November 2, tightrope walker Nik Wallenda will attempt his most audacious feat yet: walking a highline strung across the skyscrapers of Chicago's evening skyline. And in traditional Wallenda family tradition, he'll take on the Windy City untethered — without a harness or even a net.

"This is going to be the most incredible tightrope walk of my career," Wallenda says. A seventh-generation member of "Flying Wallenda's," Nik began performing with his family as a toddler, and made his first professional tightrope walk at just 13 years old. He's best known for, in 2013, becoming the first person to ever successfully cross the Grand Canyon on a tightrope.

For the first part of his Chicago skyscraper crossing, Wallenda will walk from the 587-foot tall Marina City's west tower to the Leo Burnett Building — about the distance of two city blocks — more than 50 stories above the Chicago River. The attempt will be the highest skyscraper walk in the history of the Flying Wallenda family. For the second half of the act, Wallenda will traverse a tightrope stretched between Marina City's two giant cylindrical towers.

To train for Chicago's unpredictable fall weather, Wallenda used the tropical storms that tend to build every afternoon at his home in Florida. "Barring lightening, I tried to make sure I was on the wire during every storm," he says. He also relied on airboats, which come equipped with huge fans on the back used for propulsion in shallow water. In Wallenda's case, he used them to blast winds up to 120 miles while on the wire.

In the gym, he stuck to his regular five-day-a-week regimen including weight training and cardio, with one addition. As he got closer to the date of the skyscraper walk, he began doing three- to four-mile walking sessions on the treadmill at 15-percent grade, to mimic the uphill line that he'll rig over the river in Chicago, and a 25-pound dumbbell in each hand to approximate the balancing pole used by all tightrope walkers.


Although his great-grandfather, the legendary Karl Wallenda, died after falling from a tightrope in Puerto Rico in 1978, Wallenda is not afraid. "Walking a wire becomes very natural," he explains. "Wind adds an unnatural challenge, but I believe if you work hard and really put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything."

[More Info: "Skyscraper Live with Nik Wallenda" will air live around the world on November 2, beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET on the Discovery Channel.]