Last night Nik Wallenda awed millions around the world by crossing Niagara Falls on a wire. When he arrived on the other side of the river, Canadian officials treated him like every other tourist. They asked for his passport and his purpose. From the heights of cloud nine he responded, “To inspire people around the world.”
Wallenda first dreamt of crossing Niagra Falls on a wire when he was six and visited the site with his family, the world famous Flying Wallendas. Funambulism is the family business, so such a feat might be the natural aspiration of a boy who began learning to walk a tight rope at the age of four. Twenty-four years after seeing the falls, he’s finally done it. That was a long quest, but it’s not supposed to be easy to walk 1800 feet across an international border on a wire. At night.
A Guinness world record holder, Wallenda faced years of negotiations to change the laws in two countries in order to get permission to cross the falls. ABC was willing to fund part of the feat and broadcast it live, but required Wallenda to wear a ten pound tether that trailed behind him. Even though several members of his family have died during their high wire stunts, Wallenda doesn’t wear a tether while performing and didn’t like the idea. Yet given the choice between either wearing a tether or not crossing the wire, he stuck to his dream.
Once the stunt was arranged, Wallenda prepared himself and his equipment, including wind and water practice sessions in a parking lot to imitate possible conditions over the falls. Though he objected to the requirement for a safety harness, he trained with the tether. He worked with his uncle, an engineer, to develop pendulum anchor weights since the wire could not be supported by stabilizing cables. He chose clothing that would keep him dry and wore shoes that his mother made for him. His father served as his safety coordinator. A born-again Christian, he prayed with his wife and children before the stunt. Though the wire walk was ‘only’ expected to take 30 minutes, the physical and mental challenges were immense.
Achieving this dream meant preparation, perseverance and compromise. There’s a lesson for all of us in that. It’s not the television special or the world record that put Nik Wallenda on cloud nine Friday night. It was the culmination of working so hard and having a transcendent experience. Often we only live on the edges of life, in the safe places. We forgo the challenges for the sure thing, or we get discouraged when life takes an unexpected turn. Trapped by expectation or fear, we linger where we are instead of moving forward. We hoard our dreams instead of planting them like seeds, and then we wonder at the dearth of flowers or fruit in our lives.