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Wallenda starts his training 0

Dan Dakin

By Dan Dakin, Welland Tribune

As Nik Wallenda stepped out on the wire for the first time in Niagara Falls Saturday morning, the nerves and tension of preparing for an historic feat started melting away.

“It started to help me relax,” Wallenda said after spending more than 30 minutes on the practice wire set up in front of the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

The seventh-generation aerialist will walk across the Niagara gorge directly in front of the Horseshoe Falls June 15 in front of an expected crowd of more than 100,000.

There were some technical difficulties during the first of what he expects to be a total of 20 training sessions at the Seneca Casino, but Wallenda said he felt comfortable on the wire.

“I've never walked on a two-inch (five centimetre) cable before. It feels like a sidewalk,” he said.

Of course, that “sidewalk” is actually only about half the width of the 33-year-old American's feet and the training rigging has the cable stretched about 365 metres and hitting a maximum height of nearly 17 metres high.

In just over a month, when he attempts to become the first person in history to walk across the mouth of the Horseshoe Falls, the wire will be 550 metres long and more than 50 metres above the Niagara river.

The technical difficulties Saturday came in the form of the massive wire twisting slightly as Wallenda walked across it.

“The cable was moving back and forth under my feet,” he said. “That's why we're here and we have our team of engineers.”

After walking about 100 metres on the wire, which has no stabilizing cables along the stretch being walked on, Wallenda climbed down onto a scissor lift and met with his engineering team – led by his father Terry Troffer.

The temporary fix was to hang a pole from the wire with heavy weights attached to the bottom of it. That acted as a pendulum and countered the twisting of the wire.

Wallenda said his team will now add three permanent stabilizers to the training wire and will likely use around five of them on the wire across the Falls. They'll be able to pivot up and over the wire so that, in case of an emergency, the rescue carts that will be positioned at either end of the cable will still be able to quickly get to Wallenda.

“This is unique. No one has ever done this, so it's trial and error,” he said.

On the ground, hundreds of people watched the practice and cheered every time he climbed down from the wire.

“I think it's great,” said Pia Stevens, a Waterloo, N.Y. woman who came to Niagara with friends visiting from the Philippines. “We didn't really know what was going on, but I think we might come back to see it (on June 15).”

The training walks are all open to the public and happen daily at 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Wallenda said he could hear people cheering for him and appreciated the support.

“I'm thrilled at all the people that showed up today,” he said.

Wallenda's wife and kids will arrive Tuesday to spend the week in Niagara Falls with him.

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