Mario Wallenda Returns to the High Wire
SCOTT SIMON, host:
The Flying Wallenda family is considered circus royalty. They've been performing on the high wire and trapeze for centuries. Now, they are almost as well-known for their occasional mishaps as they are for the amazing feats that made them famous. When their seven-person pyramid collapsed in 1962, two performers died in the fall. One, Mario Wallenda, was paralyzed from the waist down. But this Tuesday in Chicago, crowds gathered along the Chicago River to watch Mario Wallenda climb the high-wire once again.
He joins us now somewhere on the road in Tennessee.
Mr. Wallenda, thanks very much for being with us.
Mr. MARIO WALLENDA (The Flying Wallendas): You're quite welcome. Thank you.
SIMON: How did you get over the Chicago River?
Mr. WALLENDA: Very carefully.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WALLENDA: No, it was - they had a hundred foot crane on either side of the river. Then they got me up on it, and then they raised it a hundred feet up.
SIMON: Well, but how did you stay on the wire?
Mr. WALLENDA: You ever see these guys like at the fairs and stuff? They do these inclines on motorcycles?
SIMON: Oh, sure. Yeah.
Mr. WALLENDA: Okay, this is basically the same idea. And mine is battery operated. It's not gasoline operated.
SIMON: Yeah. So did you pedal with your hands this time, or was it...
Mr. WALLENDA: No, sir. It was all battery operated.
SIMON: All battery operated.
Mr. WALLENDA: I had a toggle - I had a switch on either side, like one for forward and reverse and the other one for fast and slow.
SIMON: Did you have one of those long poles that...
Mr. WALLENDA: A balancing pole, yeah. That's where my controls were. See, there was a wire going from the pole down to the cycle, you know, an electrical wire, which the guy that built it, that's how he set it up.
SIMON: Mm-hmm. What did it feel like to be back on the high wire after all these years?
Mr. WALLENDA: Oh, man. It's a thrill. If - I don't know if you've ever worked in front of a live audience or not, but it's a real hoot. I mean it's an adrenaline rush, and it was, for me - I had a ball.
SIMON: Was this your first time back on the wire since the '60s?
Mr. WALLENDA: No. I did something here for Guinness. It was like 35 or 40 feet up. It was in '01.
SIMON: So this is the highest you've been in the air, save for flying on an airplane, since 1962.
Mr. WALLENDA: Right.
SIMON: And it was a thrill?
Mr. WALLENDA: Oh, God, yeah. Yeah, heck, I'm ready. I got my sky - okay, my wife calls it my psycho cycle because she's a towner and she thinks we're all nuts.
SIMON: She's a towner? What do you mean?
Mr. WALLENDA: Okay. Well, see, I'm a circus person. I mean, I retired from the circus, not because I wanted to, but I had to when I got - after I got hurt.
Mr. WALLENDA: And she was my nurse. So she's a towner. She's never been on the road, so she doesn't know what it's like. So you know, again, she's like one of the audience. She's not one of us.
SIMON: Well, but you're married. I mean...
Mr. WALLENDA: Well, yeah. I know, but I'm just saying - but that's - it would be the description.
SIMON: Yeah, okay.
Mr. WALLENDA: But she don't understand about stuff like this.
SIMON: So you want to go back on the road now?
Mr. WALLENDA: No, man. I'm too old to go on the road, because that's just too damn hard.
SIMON: This sounds like it was a good time.
Mr. WALLENDA: Oh, God. I'll tell you what. I had a ball. I mean, I'm ham - 100 percent pure through-and-through ham.
SIMON: Mr. Wallenda, nice talking to you.
Mr. WALLENDA: Thank you very much.
SIMON: Mario Wallenda.
And this is NPR News.
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