It took just over 25 minutes and countless prayers for daredevil Nik Wallenda of Sarasota to become the first person to tightrope walk over Niagara Falls Friday night. Hundreds of anxious fans gathered around a jumbo screen in downtown Sarasota to watch the broadcast and celebrate the feat, accomplished by one of the city's own.
hosted a block party that drew an enormous crowd standing shoulder-to-shoulder on Lemon Avenue from Main Street to First Street, as Wallenda made his way across 1,500 feet of two-inch cable. He was tethered to the cable and held a giant balance beam that, at times, wobbled and swayed as he battled the winds, mist and a soaking wet tightrope.
"We're so proud of him," said Sarasota County Commissioner Christine Robinson, a native of Niagara County and graduate of Niagara University. "This means a lot to me. Nik has really put us on the world map."
Before the walk, Wallenda's colleagues waited anxiously. "I'm nervous for him," said his friend Adrian Poema, a member of Circus Sarasota who performed his foot juggling act earlier Friday evening.
Poema used his feet to spin, flip and toss his son, 10-year-old Adrian Jr. The stunt drew cheers from the crowd. Poema, like Wallenda, is the seventh generation of circus performers in his family. "As my grandfather always said, as long as there are children, there is the circus," Poema said.
Robin Eurich, a 1975 graduate of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College in Sarasota, said the attention from Wallenda's stunt was helping Sarasota to "rediscover its history and heritage," he said. "It's been this town's identity since 1926. Sarasota is the home of the American circus."
Thrilling a worldwide audience, Wallenda, 33, took measured steps Friday evening, and through an intercom he could be heard saying prayers and speaking to his father, Terry, who coached him during the walk.
He even answered a few questions from ABC News, which broadcast the event. Most of the time his responses were calm and collected until the last few minutes when he said, "My hands feel like they're going numb."
Wallenda's stunt family dates back to the 1780s, and has seen its share of tragedies. But on Friday night, although the fog was thick and his vision was poor, Wallenda fulfilled a childhood dream, safely walking high above the crashing falls from the U.S. to Canada.
In the final seconds of his walk, Wallenda knelt down on the beam and pumped his fist victoriously in the air. Once on solid ground, Canadian officials requested to see his passport, which he'd been carrying, and asked the purpose of his trip.
Said Wallenda: "To inspire people around the world."