Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

On Daredevils' Flirtations with Death

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

On Daredevils' Flirtations with Death

Article excerpt

I watched Nik Wallenda cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope last year -- impressive! And last week he walked 1,400 feet on a 2-inch cable stretched across the Little Colorado River Gorge, with 1,500 feet of nothing between him and the river below.

The feat was broadcast live by the Discovery Channel in 219 countries. A 10-second delay was built into the feed, presumably to allow the channel time to cut away in case of a mishap.

And with high-wire walking -- especially without a safety harness -- an ugly mishap is always a distinct possibility, even in the best conditions. In this case, the winds in the canyon were gusty, and a 1,400-foot cable, no matter how tightly stretched, tends to bounce and vacillate. Mr. Wallenda, a devout Christian, prayed aloud for most of the trip, saying repeatedly, "Thank you, Jesus." At one dicey moment, he said, "Thank you for calming that cable, God."

Mr. Wallenda, a member of a famous circus family, makes his living by risking his life. He's a daredevil and an artist, but he's also a meticulous technician who tempers the danger with rigorous preparation and training for each performance. No doubt, his audience appreciates the accomplishment of a feat that is well beyond the capacities of ordinary human beings.

But let's be honest: The spectacle is thrilling precisely because death is a possibility. No one would bother to broadcast or watch someone walking 1,400 feet along a cable strung 2 feet above the ground.

Which raises a couple of interesting questions. Mr. Wallenda is 34 years old. He has an apparently devoted wife and three children, aged 15, 12 and 10. High-wire walking provides an excellent living for them, but one wonders if a man in his position should be performing any feats that have the adjective "death-defying" in front of them or that require Jesus to turn his attention from more productive activities to stabilize a vibrating, windblown cable in a gratuitous stunt that no prudent human being would undertake to begin with. …

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