Nik Wallenda has walked across Niagara Falls on a 2-inch steel wire. He’s biked across a wire 135 feet above the ground. But he doesn’t think of himself as a daredevil.
“I do consider what I do an art,” Wallenda said in a media conference call. “And, you know, I consider a daredevil more of somebody who says, you know, ‘I’m going to do something that’s never been done before but I haven’t trained for it either. I’m just going to go do it and see what happens.' Whereas ... I train and train and train and over-train for this. However, I’m not offended by those who call me a daredevil because I can understand their point as well.”
Wallenda’s brain isn’t wired any differently, but people learn to deal with stress and fear in very different ways, said Jeff Wise, author of Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger.
“No fear is rational,” Wise said. “It doesn’t come from the prefrontal cortex; our brains process emotions in a parallel way. So (if I got on a high wire) I would immediately start getting heart palpitations, fall off and die. For him, he knows this material. Maybe for him it’s like walking down the sidewalk.”
Indeed, Wallenda says he’s been walking on wires so long (since he was 2, or even before he was born, if you count his mother walking on wires when she was 6 months pregnant) that it is second nature. Working as a police officer, he said, would scare him much more than walking across the Grand Canyon without a tether, which he will attempt on Sunday.
Wallenda recognizes that what he does is dangerous, and says much of his training is out of respect for that danger.
“For the last six months, I’ve sat out there and looked over the edge saying, OK, well, that is where I’m walking, that’s my view, and I’m going to make it to the other side,” he said. “For training I put up a cable that is the same or close to the same distance but lower to the ground but it’s the same tensions. And as I’m walking that cable I’m visualizing myself over the Grand Canyon at times. And as I’m walking over the Grand Canyon I’ll be visualising myself back at training going, you did this. You did it in the winds, you did the distance, you’ve got the endurance, you’re going to be fine. It would be very easy to do the opposite and sit there and think how dangerous it is and I could fall and I could get killed and so on and so forth.”