When Nik Wallenda describes one of his stunts as death-defying, his words carry more clout than the average daredevil or acrobat.
Wallenda, 32, is a seventh-generation member of the legendary "Flying Wallendas" circus family. His relatives have died performing stunts, including his great-grandfather Karl Wallenda, who died when he fell during a walk on a wire in 1978 in Puerto Rico.
It was the successful re-creation of a deadly stunt known as the seven-person chair pyramid in 1998 in Detroit that convinced Wallenda stunt work was what he was supposed to do. The stunt has a grim spot in Wallenda family history. In 1962, Karl Wallenda was injured and his son-in-law, Richard Faughnan, and nephew, Dieter Schepp, died attempting the chair pyramid in Detroit.
Wallenda did the stunt, which had been in retirement for decades, with his father, Terry Troffer, and his mother, Delilah Wallenda. He felt after its completion he should help carry on the family legacy.
Wallenda and other family members do the seven-person pyramid about once a year these days.
"Since 18 years old, I have not thought of giving up (stunt work) and doing something else," said Wallenda.
Wallenda's mother started helping him learn to walk the high wire almost as soon as he started walking.
"I started performing at 2 years old, that was in Sea World in San Diego where I was a clown. At age 4, I was walking on my own," Wallenda said. "I performed my first aerial high-wire act, which was 30-feet above the ground, at 13 years old."
Wallenda said he now does stunts involving everything from riding motorcycles on wires to high-flying sky walks. He is currently trying to get permission to walk across Niagara Falls and the permits to walk across the Grand Canyon.
On Friday, Wallenda comes to the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City to perform two stunts.
At 11 a.m., he'll attempt to traverse a wire stretched 55 feet above the Fiesta Plaza in The Quarter at the Tropicana. At 4 p.m. he performs the "Wheel of Death" stunt from atop the 23rd story of the South Tower of Tropicana.
The "Wheel of Death" is a large rotating apparatus on which acrobats do stunts. It is essentially a 50-foot steel frame with an 8-foot wheel at one end. Wallenda will do tricks on the outside and inside of the wheel as the entire apparatus rotates. The "Wheel of Death" has never been performed off the side of a building. It also has never been performed at this height, which will be a world record.
Elvin Bale designed the "Wheel of Death" at least 40 years ago, Wallenda said.
"Since then, we have reinvented the wheel, if you will. I did a headlining tour with Ringling (Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus) for two years in '07 and '08 where we built two of them that split pneumatically," Wallenda said.
Friday's performance will likely have Wallenda a bit more nervous than usual, he said.
"For about 10 years now, I have been performing on the 'Wheel of Death.' The apparatus is 45 or 50 feet tall. You are 50 feet off the ground, and that's it, but now, we are putting it out over the edge of the building, so it's a mental thing more than anything," Wallenda said. "So, there will be quite a bit of stress before doing that. Anytime I do anything major that is untraditional, such as the event there at the Tropicana, there are quite a few nerves involved."
Wallenda set a Guinness World Record in Oct. 15, 2008, for the longest distance - 150 feet - and greatest height - 20 stories over a street without a safety net - ever traveled by bicycle on a high wire. He has since broken those records, but those feats don't impress him.
"It's funny. It's another day at the job for me in a sense. It's in my blood to do things that the normal human wouldn't do. The event in Atlantic City, there will be a lot of nerves involved, but we have already put in for a world record for that because it has never been done, and most likely will be accepted by Guinness World Records," Wallenda said. "It's exciting. It's fun. It's cool to be able to do something you love and get rewarded for it like that."
Contact Vincent Jackson:
Nik Wallenda performs a high-wire walk 11 a.m. Friday across Fiesta Plaza in The Quarter at the Tropicana Casino and Resort, 2831 Boardwalk, Atlantic City. He also will perform on the Wheel of Death 4 p.m. from atop the 23rd story of the South Tower of Tropicana. Both stunts are free. The Wheel of Death can be viewed from the Boardwalk or beaches adjacent to the Tropicana. For more information, visit