It doesn’t matter that I know he survived. It doesn’t matter that I know he made it.
As I sit here in my office and re-watch world-renowned aerialist Nik Wallenda’s 22-minute high-wire walk over the Grand Canyon from June, I’m sure it looks more like I’m back in my high school Health & Wellness class watching a video about child birth—nervously peeking through my fingers, feeling somewhat queasy, wanting it all to be over so I can breathe again, and, like Wallenda, saying to myself, “This will be over soon; just don’t look down.”
It’s not an exaggeration.
Re-watching Wallenda’s unbelievable feat (and feet) really does give me the heebie-jeebies. When the chopper circles the speckle of a person (with no harness) balancing on a two-inch wire in the vastness of a 1,500-foot drop, I must admit, all I see is the dot on the wire meeting gravity like a raindrop.
Throw the wind in there (20 mph gusts), the canyon dust accumulating on the wire (he’s surrounded by a giant rock, after all), the rippling of the wire (something scientific that I don’t understand), the optical illusion he was experiencing (I can’t even stare at a book for 20 minutes straight, not to mention a wire suspended over eternity), and the fact he’s wearing a standard pair of jeans that flap in the wind at his ankles (did his secretary mess up his schedule and tell him he had a business meeting at Applebee’s?)—and his stunt becomes one of the most horrifying things I’ve seen since The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
In my opinion, though frightening, Wallenda’s stunt was so intriguing, skilled, and historic that it may be the best sporting moment of 2013. That’s why I’m writing about it.
But I also like what it represents. And I like what Wallenda represents.
If you haven’t watched Wallenda’s entire 22-minute walk across the Grand Canyon, I recommend it—as terrifying as it is. Yes, you’ll see him make history. But you’ll also see what he believes. It’s as much a 22-minute prayer as it is a walk.
“It (the wire) really is, in a sense, somewhat of a prayer closet,” Wallenda told me via email. “That may sound strange, but when I step on the cable, the other cares of life are no longer in play. I am focused on the walk itself, of course, but then it just becomes a conversation with God as I’m walking.”
Before he reached the midway point of his walk, he said some variation of “Praise Jesus,” “Thank you Lord,” “Yes Jesus,” or “Hallelujah” 62 times (about 83 times total). And right when he took his first step on the wire and peered over the canyon, he said, “Praise God, this is awesome. Thank you Jesus for this beautiful view.”
I find it interesting that, though fear and death are below, he embraces it all, he experiences God in the midst of the Grand Canyon in 2013 or the mist of Niagara Falls in 2012, and his prayers rise upward. I can’t think of a better example of both enjoying God and depending on Him.
As I watched Wallenda’s walk, I must admit, part of me envied him—not because I want to be on the wire, I think I’d rather be Abraham in Genesis 17, but because I want my life to look like Wallenda’s walk. To be that risky, to be that dependent, to walk with the Lord down the straight and narrow in such a way that no outside factors can deter me. I want to welcome adventure because of the view. I want to embrace challenges because it forces dependency. But how?
“As a tightrope walker, I always try to establish a fixed point to focus on, particularly when there are so many elements in play that are a distraction or that are coming against me,” Wallenda says. “My walks over Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon were perfect examples. I faced winds, mist, and the movement of the cable, but my focus was on the solid rock on the other side. Christ is that solid rock for my faith. Life brings a lot of challenges that want to knock you off course, but we have to focus on Him. He’s that solid and unmoving rock.”
See, when you know your focus is on solid rock, all you have to do is keep walking, one foot in front of the other, enjoying God every step of the way. The fact that you’re enjoying and experiencing God can make a challenging walk joyful.
“I try to focus on the promise of Proverbs 3:5-6,” Wallenda says. “To paraphrase, trust me with everything, and I’ll direct your paths.”
And sometimes that path is a wire.
This column appeared in the January 2014 Sports Spectrum DigiMag. Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.