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AMERICAS > Nik Wallenda walks on tightrope over Niagara Falls

NIAGARA FALLS, Canada - - Agence France-Presse

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Nik Wallenda walks over Niagara Falls on a tightrope in Niagara Falls, Ontario, on Friday, June 15, 2012. Wallenda has finished his attempt to become the first person to walk on a tightrope 1,800 feet across the mist-fogged brink of roaring Niagara Falls. AP Photo

Nik Wallenda walks over Niagara Falls on a tightrope in Niagara Falls, Ontario, on Friday, June 15, 2012. Wallenda has finished his attempt to become the first person to walk on a tightrope 1,800 feet across the mist-fogged brink of roaring Niagara Falls. AP Photo

Cheered on by thousands of spectators, US tightrope walker Nik Wallenda late Friday fulfilled his childhood dream of walking over the Niagara Falls and into the history books.

 Crowds packed the US and Canadian sides of the border to watch the 33-year-old brave strong winds and heavy spray to walk on a cable suspended around 200 feet (60 meters) above North America's biggest waterfall.
 
After a brief prayer with his wife and children, Wallenda climbed onto the cable and headed from New York to Canada. With the aid of a long balancing pole, Wallenda carefully found his footing and maintained a laser-like focus on his task throughout.
 
The hair-raising walk took around 25 minutes, less than the expected 35 to 40 minutes. He jumped down from the high wire on the Canadian side at 10:40 pm (0240 GMT).
 
The event was televised by the US network ABC with a five-second delay.
 
Wallenda wore a waterproof outfit and suede-soled slippers pecially designed by his mother. Powerful TV lights focused on him the whole way, as millions of people around the world followed the event on television.
 
The acrobat had a two-way radio and a small earpiece, and was able to communicate with his father, identified by ABC as Terry Troffer.
 
"My God, it's incredible, it's breathtaking," Wallenda said soon after starting his quest.
 
He later reported being "very wet." "This is so physical, not only mental but physical," Wallenda said. "Fighting the wind isn't easy. I feel my hands are going numb." Wallenda's father gave him words of encouragement throughout the walk.
 
"You're doing good. Take your time," said Troffer, whom ABC described as the event safety coordinator.
 
The crowd went wild when Wallenda reached the Canadian side of the Falls.
 
Still on the high wire, Wallenda kneeled briefly on the cable and waved to the roaring crowd.
 
At ABC's insistence, Wallenda was attached to a harness that would have allowed him to climb back onto the high wire if he slipped and fell.
 
Soon after arriving in Canada, Wallenda called his 84-year-old grandmother on a mobile phone. "Hey Oma, I love you," he told her. Wallenda said he had promised to call as soon as he completed the feat because she could not be there.
 
Any attempt to cross the falls is usually forbidden, but an exception was made for Wallenda, who comes from a long line of acrobats and circus performers.
 
Fourteen daredevils attempted the stunt and occasionally succeeded in the 19th century before further attempts were banned. However, they were in a much calmer section of the waterfall. Wallenda crossed Niagara Falls at a rim that had never been traversed before.
 
A smiling but fatigued Wallenda told a news conference he was especially challenged by the mist and the wind. "The mist was worse than I thought," he said. "The winds were pretty wild out there." And yet "it's been worth every minute and every penny," Wallenda said. "I loved every minute of it." Wallenda also said that he plans to cross the Grand Canyon -- a distance three times longer than Niagara Falls -- for his next high-wire act. He said he already has a permit, and that he would make the bid "within three to five years if not sooner." Throughout the walk Wallenda's children, aged nine, 11 and 14, were watching.
 
The acrobat's achievement adds to the lore and legend of the Wallenda family, famous for astonishing audiences around the world with their jaw-dropping stunts executed at dizzying heights.
 
Their fame really took off in 1978, when they were made the subject of a popular made-for-TV movie,
"The Great Wallendas." Nik Wallenda paid tribute at the event to the family patriarch, his great-grandfather Karl Wallenda, the German-born founder of the Flying Wallendas. Karl Wallenda died aged 73 in 1978 while attempting to walk between two tall buildings in Puerto Rico.
 
The Niagara Falls, the most powerful in North America, were formed by receding glaciers at the end of the last ice age, with an average four million cubic feet of water from the Great Lakes flowing over the crest each minute.

June/17/2012

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