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Nik Wallenda from "Life on the Wire" stars in the Discovery Channel reality docu-series.

Nik Wallenda, the seventh generation of the legendary Great Wallendas, set a Guinness world record on October 15, 2008, for the longest distance and greatest height ever traveled by bicycle on a high wire. Wallenda walked 150 feet out on a high wire from the roof of Newark, New Jersey's Prudential Building, suspended 20 stories over the street without a safety net. He returned on a bicycle for the Guinness
Nik Wallenda in "Life on a Wire"
Nik Wallenda Life on a Wire
World Record.

Nik Wallenda's precision, athletic skills and fearlessness in his blood can be traced back to his Wallenda roots as early as 1780. In the cafes of Old Bohemia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the ancestral Wallenda family traveled as circus troupe of acrobats, jugglers, clowns, aerialists and animal trainers with the next two generations adding the flying trapeze.

The great Karl Wallenda, born in 1905 in Magdeburg, Germany, was set on bringing his family touring act to the world, featuring an amazing 4-person, 3-level pyramid, quickly catching the attention of John Ringling with The Greatest Show on Earth and eventually coming to the United States from Germany in the 1920s at the invitation of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. The high wire spectacles developed by Karl make the Wallenda troupe most well known to this day.

By 1947 Karl created his crowning achievement—the seven-person chair pyramid. From a wire 35 feet in the air four men stood as two pairs yoked together by shoulder bars with two more men on a second level and finally a woman first sitting then standing on a chair at the pinnacle of the pyramid. The Wallendas successfully performed this trick for decades, until January 30, 1962. On that fateful day in Detroit, at the State Fair Coliseum, the front man on the wire faltered and the pyramid collapsed. Three men fell to the ground and to their deaths

In the years following the catastrophic fall in Detroit, Karl continued performing "Sky Walks," walking between buildings and across stadiums, including Busch, Veterans, JFK, 3 Rivers Stadiums and the Astrodome, among others. His most famous walk was a 1200-foot long trek across the Tallulah Falls Gorge in Georgia, where 30,000 people watched as this 65-year-old legend performed two separate headstands at a height of over 700 feet in the air. It was during a promotional walk in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in March, 1978, that the patriarch of the Great Wallendas fell to his death at age 73, not because of his age, capabilities, or the wind that day, but because of bad rigging.

Today, the Wallenda legacy lives on to the sixth and seventh generations through Nik and his siblings, Karl's grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Despite the Wallendas' globe-trotting adventures, Nik was born in Sarasota, Florida, and was introduced into his family's performances at the age of two (dressed as a clown), began walking the wire at age 4 and had his first professional wire performance at 13. Nik briefly considered a medical career akin to the legacy of his other renowned great-grandfather—J.Y. "Doc" Henderson—a pioneering veterinarian with Ringling Bros. in the mid-20th century, though eventually settled his career aspirations at the age of 19. "It was in 1998 when members of my family—including my father, Terry Troffer, and my mother, Delilah Wallenda—re-created the seven-person pyramid on a high wire in Detroit, Michigan, after many decades of the act's retirement. I knew then what I was born to do."

The following year, Nik proposed to his future wife, Erendira, on bended knee on a wire 30 feet high during a performance in Montreal, Canada before a packed house of 18,000 people. Together, they are considered circus royalty as Erendira is an eighth generation circus performer on her mother's side of the family, whose family owns and operates one of the largest circuses in Australia. On her father's side, with roots in Mexico, she is the seventh generation of circus performers best known as the first to successfully complete the quadruple somersault on the flying trapeze.

In concert with his parents and his older sister, Nik has performed with various other Wallenda family members over the years and, in 2001, was part of another first for their several troupes. Appearing at Japan's Kurashiki Tivoli Park, they set the Guinness world record for an eight-person pyramid on the high wire—a feat practiced intensely for over five months. "It was a landmark experience for our profession, as well as our family and me personally," he states, continuing to site his great-grandfather Karl as his primary inspiration.

In recent years, Nik has developed many "broad scale productions" for amusement parks and similar venues all over the world, often featuring him and wife Erendira, but which also include "water stunts, diving and other daredevil exploits." They have worked together and with their respective families on acts including sway poles, the high wire, the wheel, incline motorcycles, skywalks, silks, lyra, the cloud swing, motorcycles in a cage—and at one time, Nik even exhibited a dog act! "We've performed nearly every circus or daredevil skill there is," Nik affirms. "And we have the riggings for every sort of apparatus stored in a warehouse to prove it!"

In the Ringling Bros. production BellobrationSM, Nik performed with Bello Nock—with whom he has been a friend "forever"—on a newly contrived, double version of the Wheel of Steel. Actually two double-sided wheels side-by-side, he and Bello each started at one end and ended up on the other. They also chased each other inside and outside the wheels. They ended with the wheels separated, moving counter to each other, but still side-by-side. About the production, Nik added that: "It's a challenge to come up with new ideas, things that haven't been done before. Especially when you come from a family that is known for 'firsts,' I feel that I have a lot to live up to."

Nik and Erendira have three children, Yanni, Amadaos, and Evita, who, stunningly, have DNA passed down from 25 generations of circus performers—which leads to the family's most ambitious dream: for Nik to honor the memory of his great-grandfather Karl, and walk across the Grand Canyon. He has already secured the permits.

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Birthplace: Sarasota, FL
Wife: Erendira Wallenda

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