Nik Wallenda on Why He's Doing His 'Highwire Live in Times Square'

Kellie Freeze
Preview Walt Disney Television/Jeff Neira

Nik Wallenda surveys the specialized scaffolding that will support the wire that he and his sister Lijana will use on the ABC special, Highwire Live in Times Square With Nik Wallenda.

On Sunday, June 23, the eyes of the nation will be on highwire master Nik Wallenda as he walks on a wire less than an inch wide above New York City’s Times Square in the two-hour ABC live event Highwire Live in Times Square With Nik Wallenda.

The walk will take the seventh-generation performer from 1 Times Square, home to Manhattan’s famous New Year’s Eve ball drop, to the other end of the landmark square, approximately 1,300 feet away. But the King of the Highwire won’t be alone in his death-defying attempt: He’ll be joined by his sister Lijana, who suffered a near-fatal fall in 2017.

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“I have wanted to do something in New York City for a long time. Something big,” says Nik. “My family’s first performance in the United States was in the old Madison Square Garden back in 1928.” Family is paramount to the Wallendas, and the close-knit performers, who usually eschew safety wires and nets, famously band together in moments of triumph and tragedy.

Nik and Tijana Wallenda each got started on the high wire at an early age. (Photo: Courtesy Wallenda Family)

In February 2017, Nik and Lijana were practicing an eight-person pyramid on a wire over 30 feet in the air when it toppled, plunging Lijana and other family members to the ground. Luckily, no one was killed, and although Lijana was severely injured, she is ready to resume her place in the spotlight — and on the wire.

“We are all about inspiration,” explains Nik, “and there will be nothing more inspiring than seeing a woman who’s had a close-to-death experience overcoming it.” A portion of the ABC special will chronicle Lijana’s arduous — and miraculous — recovery.

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In addition to the physical and psychological peril of Nik and Lijana’s feat 25 stories above the pavement of New York, there will also be environmental challenges: crosswinds from the Hudson River, throngs of unpredictable crowds, car horns, sirens and the visual assault of millions of lights.

Nik reveals that he and his sister are preparing for all of these challenges at the family’s Florida training compound. “Our local sheriff’s department here in Sarasota is going to send out a couple of cars,” he shares. “We’re going to have their lights on underneath us, and some sirens, to create distractions. That’s what it’s about. Part of our training growing up was being distracted and staying focused during those distractions. This is bringing that to an entirely new level.”

Nik Wallenda reveals that his walk over Manhattan's Times Square is just over 1300 feet long! (Photo: dick clark productions)

And while the Wallendas prepare for their walk above midtown Manhattan, Nik is ever the showman and is already promoting his next perilous endeavor. He teases, “After I get off the wire on the far end of Times Square, give my sister a hug and congratulate her, I will be telling you what that is.”

Although he and his sister will be performing high above the city that never sleeps, Nik hopes that on the evening of June 23, people will take a few moments to stop and enjoy the view. “My dream is that the city will stop for the 25 minutes that we’re on the wire and sort of relax and take it all in.”

Highwire Live In Times Square With Nik Wallenda, Sunday, June 23, 8/7c, ABC