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A 'Flying Wallenda' to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope

By Chris Boyette, CNN
updated 5:05 PM EDT, Thu May 3, 2012
Daredevil Nik Wallenda expects to make his high-wire walk over Niagara Falls on June 15.
Daredevil Nik Wallenda expects to make his high-wire walk over Niagara Falls on June 15.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nik Wallenda will attempt to walk a tightrope over Niagara Falls on June 15
  • The last time someone was allowed to try such a stunt was in 1896
  • Generations of Wallendas have been performing daring stunts since the 1700s
  • His great-grandfather, Karl Wallenda, died during a high-wire act in Puerto Rico in 1978

(CNN) -- Renowned high-wire walker Nik Wallenda has announced he will attempt to walk a tightrope over Niagara Falls between the United States and Canada on June 15, the first person to do so in more than a century.

"This has been a dream for so long, since I was 6 years old," Wallenda said at a news conference Wednesday.

Wallenda will walk a 2-inch cable attached to massive cranes on each side of the falls, about 1,800 feet across, and 200 feet up from the bottom of the gorge.

The crossing should take about 30 to 40 minutes and is planned to take place in early evening.

"There's something iconic about Niagara Falls," Wallenda told CNN on Thursday. "There is a history here."

According to Niagara Falls Tourism, the first tightrope walker to cross the falls was Jean Francois Gravelet, better known as "The Great Blondin," in 1859. The last person to cross the gorge on a wire was James Hardy in 1896, but Wallenda said he will be the first to cross directly over the waterfall.

"The other people all crossed farther down," said Wallenda.

The reason it has been so long since any daredevils have attempted the dangerous feat is because Niagara Falls Park banned tightrope walking displays after Hardy's walk, according to Niagara Falls Tourism.

Wallenda, 33, was determined to perform the death-defying stunt and lobbied politicians in the U.S. and Canada to get approval.

"I can't tell you the amount of times I was told, 'no,' 'impossible,'" he said. "I just kept on fighting."

Wallenda's first breakthrough came in September, he said, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill giving him permission to perform the feat.

At first, Canadian authorities wouldn't allow the stunt on their end, said Wallenda, but finally gave him the go-ahead in February, specifying that they would grant permission for such spectacular acts only once every generation.

"This is something that people will talk about for generations to come," said Wallenda.

Wallenda says he plans to train in Niagara Falls on May 12 through 22, crossing a practice wire identical in size and length to the one he will cross over the falls in June.

Nik Wallenda is a seventh-generation performer in the famed circus family known as The Flying Wallendas. The clan has been doing impressive circus acrobatics and stunts since the 1700s.

"My great-grandfather, Karl Wallenda, was my biggest hero in life, my biggest inspiration behind everything I do," Wallenda said in 2011 after he completed the exact 100-foot-high walk in Puerto Rico that killed his great-grandfather, who fell to his death in 1978 at age 73.

Wallenda, who calls himself "the king of the high wire," has broken several world records and holds the Guinness Record for crossing the longest and highest high wire on a bicycle.

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