Nik Wallenda completes Niagara Falls tightrope walk

NIAGARA FALLS, Canada — High-wire artist Nik Wallenda fulfilled his dream of walking over Niagara Falls on a wire Friday, defying predictions of naysayers who warned of everything from falcons to fierce winds toppling him as he made his way over the roaring water.

As hundreds of thousands of people watched from the Canadian and U.S. sides of the falls, Wallenda gingerly walked through a thick, cold mist, becoming nearly invisible at times except for his bright red shirt and the glint of his balancing pole.

Contrary to some predictions, he did not unhook his safety harness, a tether the ABC TV network had required over Wallenda’s objections. Even with the harness, the walk was gripping to watch, as Wallenda’s balancing pole rocked back and forth in the wind and some birds flew close to his head.

“I feel like I’m on cloud nine right now,” he said at a news conference minutes after completing the walk. “The impossible is not quite the impossible if you set your mind to it.”

Wallenda said the first thing he did after the walk was call his grandmother to let her know he was fine.

Wallenda made it look easy, never seeming to slow down or hesitate, and firmly putting one foot in front of another, wearing the shoes specially made by his mother to provide extra grip on the wet wire.

As he neared the end of the walk at Canada’s Table Rock, Wallenda knelt on one knee, waved and blew a kiss to the crowd. Many had begun chanting “Let’s go, Nik!” as Wallenda came into clearer view in the final moments of the 34-minute trek.

Wallenda, 33, was the first person to make the walk since 1896, when 21-year-old James Hardy completed it. But Hardy and others who crossed the falls never attempted to do so in the same spot as Wallenda: at the widest part of the gorge and close enough to the tumbling water to be coated in icy spray and buffeted by winds.

“It’s history being made,” said Michael Mescall of Collins Center, N.Y., who with his wife, Pamela, had settled into a prime viewing spot near the finishing point in Canada.

ABC, which aired the walk in a prime-time special, demanded that Wallenda wear the harness in case he slipped, even though the scion of the famous Wallenda family of tightrope walkers did not want to.

Few of the spectators who were perched in lawn chairs or on picnic blankets, or just leaning on the railings that run alongside the falls, were bothered by the addition of the safety tether. Most said they understood the need for it in today’s litigious world, but speculation had been rife that Wallenda would remove the harness once he was out on the wire.

Laura Gonnering of Northport, Ala., had hoped he would not. “I don’t think it takes away from the show at all,” she said. “Nobody wants to see anyone get killed.”

Gonnering, along with husband Tom and brother-in-law Tim Gonnering, was watching from beneath three large umbrellas set up next to the falls on the walkway, which was buffeted by wind and drenched in spray. They had reserved it hours earlier.

“It’s been a long time since I camped out for a special event,” Laura Gonnering said. “Last time was to get Garth Brooks tickets.”

The walk took more than a year to organize and required approval from officials on both sides of the border, who frown on so-called stunters chasing fame by performing feats — many of which have ended in death — at the falls.

But New York lawmakers lifted the ban on stunts last year to allow Wallenda’s performance, and Canadian officials eventually agreed to the event, which was expected to bring millions of dollars in revenue to both sides of the border.

Wallenda said his walk was not a stunt or a daredevil act but rather an athletic feat, because of the rigorous practice and training involved.

And he is already planning his next walk: over the Grand Canyon.