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Sarasota's Wallenda Siblings To Perform High-Wire Act Above Times Square

The Wallenda family has been a star tightrope-walking troupe for generations, tracing their roots to 1780 in Austria-Hungary, when their ancestors traveled as a band of acrobats, aerialists, jugglers, animal trainers, and trapeze artists.
Courtesy of Nik Wallenda
Nik Wallenda and several family members performing at Circus Sarasota in 2017

Later this month, members of the Flying Wallendas will perform a live high-wire walk on national television.  The event comes two years after several performers were involved in a devastating fall in Sarasota.

This week, siblings Nik and Lijana Wallenda are practicing at the city's Nathan Benderson Park for a high-wire walk above Times Square in New York City.

In 2017, the performers were rehearsing a tightrope pyramid stunt under the Circus Sarasota Big Top when tragedy struck. One person lost their balance, causing five people to fall more than 25 feet to the ground. The Wallendas do not use a safety net, and family member, Lijana Wallenda broke every bone in her face in the fall.

Now, her brother says she's excited to perform a daredevil act high above Times Square. 

"My family has very thick skin and they're strong people so she wasn't even expected to live, let alone walk and breathe and to be able to walk a wire over Times Square is pretty miraculous," said Nik Wallenda.

The Wallendas have roots stretching back seven generations in Sarasota.

The family started performing back in the late 18th century, where they lived in the Austro-Hungarian empire, according to Nik Wallenda's website. They came to the United States in 1928 to perform with Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus.

During the Depression era, Karl Wallenda conceived of the seven-person chair pyramid. The family performed the tightrope act for decades until a tragic fall in 1962 that left two men dead and another paralyzed.

During a high-wire walk in Puerto Rico in 1978, Karl Wallenda fell to his death at the age of 73.

Even so, Sarasota native Nik Wallenda says performing is in his family’s DNA.

"Me and my sister both started walking a wire at 18-months-old,” he said. “This is our passion. It is not like, you know, a golfer gets in an accident and says 'well I'm not going to golf anymore.' Of course he wants to get back to golfing and it’s the same with us. We do it because we love it.”

Wallenda says he and his sister will be 25 stories above the ground when they perform in New York City.

The siblings will start on opposite ends of Times Square, meet in the middle and continue to the other end.

The live event takes place June 23rd on ABC.

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