SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) – When Nik Wallenda performs Thursday night, it will be for his family, his ancestors and his legacy: “Through any challenge, you can make it.”
Wallenda said on Thursday when five performers in his act were injured the day before, the high-wire was rigged at 28 feet. The act was four layers high, making the top person about 43 feet up in the air. His intention was to break the Guinness world record.
“One of the guys was up 40-feet high when he fell, and he will walk out of the hospital today. He had only three broken toes," he said. "That’s a miracle!”
Everyone is expected to fully recover with injuries ranging from broken feet, a broken pelvis, facial fractures and an arm broken in a couple areas, according to Wallenda. Rietta and Lijana Wallenda, Nik's sisters, suffered the most of those injuries, he said.
"The troupe is all very limber and athletic, like cats,” Wallenda said. "If it wasn’t for their muscle mass, they wouldn’t have survived the way they did.” They had been practicing for about two months at 12 feet high.
Wallenda was at the back position of the pyramid, at the helm and calling all the shots. He, his cousin Blake, and another performer were able to grab the wire and hang on. He doesn't know how he got down to his sister on the floor so quickly, but someone told him he jumped from the platform.
That jump would have been 28 feet. Wallenda returned 15 feet back to the platform using the wire. “We were halfway out on the wire,” said Wallenda. “A couple people in front started to get kicked around and lost balance. There’s talk that someone might have fainted.
“We don’t know what played into it. We don’t know if it was hot, if that played into it. We just don’t know. To me it felt like someone passed out, blacked out just for a second. But that’s all it takes to throw everyone off.”
Wallenda rehearses without a net. He said he was taught for generations that a net can give a false sense of security. “I have an uncle who landed in a net, bounced out and died.”
Through it all, the show will go on. The Flying Wallendas will perform tonight, including Nik’s wife Erendira Vasquez, at the UTC Big Top. The performance is private, for students, other performers, family and friends.
Wallenda said he asked every performer who was injured, individually and in private if the show should continue, and everyone said yes. “It was unanimously said that I should get on that wire tonight and we should perform. The show must go on!”
He will be performing for them, Wallenda said, for his family, for his ancestors who started the art, and for his legacy. “If you can’t be inspired from someone falling that high and living through it, I don’t know what would inspire you.”
Circus Sarasota's winter performance starts at 7 p.m. Friday and runs until March 5 with afternoon and evening performances. Tickets are still available.