Nik Wallenda on Challenges of Times Square High-Wire Walk: "I Have Every Distraction in the World"

Courtesy of Jeff Neira/Walt Disney Television
Nik Wallenda

The "King of the High Wire" and sister Lijana Wallenda will cross the tourist spot in the air — the latter's first live stunt since a 2017 accident left her severely injured, with every bone in her face broken.

On Sunday, daredevil Nik Wallenda of the famed Flying Wallendas circus family will take on one of his riskiest stunts yet alongside his sister Lijana Wallenda. The acrobat sibling duo will cross a 1,300-foot-long wire between two New York City skyscrapers 25 stories above Times Square.

The event will be broadcast live at 8 p.m. ET (tape-delayed PT) on ABC in a two-hour special, Highwire Live in Times Square With Nik Wallenda, hosted by Michael Strahan and Erin Andrews and produced by Dick Clark Productions, a division of Valence Media, the parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.

The Wallendas, both wearing safety harnesses, will start at opposite ends of the iconic tourist spot and meet in the middle where they must cross each other's paths, the most challenging aspect of the walk, before continuing on with the never-before-attempted stunt.

This is Lijana's first high-wire stunt since a 2017 accident during a rehearsal left her severely injured, with every bone in her face broken. But Nik tells THR he is excited to be there with her as she overcomes this injury.

"Our life and our career has always been about inspiring people to believe that nothing is impossible no matter what challenges you might face, and my sister's the perfect example of that," he says. "That wire almost took her life, and not only is she going to do something that people think is impossible but she's doing it against all odds mentally and physically."

While Nik has done stunts with family members before and enjoys it, he says having family on the wire with him also makes it more difficult.

"I am excited, but it'll be harder too because I'll be distracted by my concern for Lijana and her safety and I won't be able to focus 100 percent on myself, and I need to be focused on myself 150 percent," he says.

The Wallendas are no strangers to dangerous stunts, as their family's high-flying act dates back to the late 1700s. Their first stunt in the U.S. was in 1928 at Madison Square Garden, which Nik says is part of the reason why he wants to do the Times Square walk. He currently holds several Guinness World Records and was the first person to walk on a tightrope across the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls.

This particular stunt varies significantly from his impressive feats across some of the most beautiful and famous natural landmarks, however, mainly because of the distractions a busy venue like Times Square creates.

"This is such a different beast and a whole different ball game. The Grand Canyon was beautiful, and yes, there were winds that I was facing, but the distractions were gone," Nik says. "With this one, I have every distraction in the world: I've got cars, people, sirens and flashing LED walls."

But the man known as "The King of the High Wire" embraces challenges, upping the ante with each stunt he does.

"I'm all about raising the bar, taking it to the next level and pushing myself to be greater at what I do. What better way to do that than to create all the distractions that you normally wouldn't want as a wire walker and then take on that challenge," Nik says.

As for blocking out the noise, the Wallendas have been preparing mentally for this stunt and have spent extensive time on the top of 1 Times Square listening to all of the sounds.

A considerable amount of physical preparation and training has gone into this stunt, as well. The Wallendas train in their Sarasota, Florida, hometown and have attempted to re-create the full experience of the stunt there.

"There's going to be two of us on the wire, so the wire is going to move uniquely and it's rigged very uniquely here. There is no way to really simulate Times Square in Florida, but we did our best to simulate how that wire is going to feel as we are walking it," Nik says.

Logistically, this stunt required a lot of permits and red tape to get around, a process Nik says was a much larger task than anything he ever imagined he'd face in his life.

"It's been overwhelming," he says, "but luckily I live by the words 'never give up,' because I wanted to about 10 times during this process."