Advertisement
  1. News

Rick Wallenda's daring walk mesmerizes crowd at St. Petersburg's Sundial

Rick Wallenda, a member of the famous tightrope-walking Flying Wallendas, walks a high wire above the Sundial courtyard in downtown St. Petersburg. Saturday’s event was a benefit for Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County.
Published Feb. 12, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — Rick Wallenda wasn't worried Saturday as he approached the half-inch cable spanning the Sundial courtyard, from Ruth's Chris Steak House to Sea Salt.

He's walked the tightrope so many times he can't even count, 49 years professionally and just-for-fun years before that.

Once he's secured the rigging, picked his rope holders and attended to other details, "I trust my skill and I trust in the Lord, Jesus Christ," said Wallenda, 61.

Not even the knowledge that his family members fell nearly 40 feet just days earlier while attempting an eight-person pyramid on the high wire deterred him. His sister faces surgeries to repair a broken pelvis and cracked hip, he said, and a cousin remains in serious condition from which Wallenda hoped she would recover.

"They wouldn't want me to stop," he said. "We're all rooting for each other."

Wallenda, an 2001 Eckerd College graduate, performed his act — including a gasp-inducing headstand in the middle — to support Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County. The Edwards Group, which owns the Sundial shopping area, also sponsors Habitat's annual gala fundraiser and wanted to hold a special activity to promote the circus-themed event.

Organizer Laura Fage said she joked with owner Bill Edwards, " 'Do you want me to get the Wallendas to walk across the Sundial?' He said, 'That would be great.' "

They reached a deal, and the show went on after months of planning and engineering, to make sure the building could withstand the pressure of the wire.

Wallenda's 81-year-old mother, Carla, came to watch. She skipped the Sarasota pyramid run by her grandson, Nik, saying she knew they were going to fall.

Rick, who was trained by Carla's father, Karl, "is perfectly safe," she said. "He's good at it. The other one, I was nervous."

Some members of Saturday's crowd, which flowed out of the Sundial courtyard into nearby streets and parking garages, admitted to their own anxiety as they peered upward to watch the man in red, white and blue skywalk.

"I'm nervous because he might fall off," said Travis Ricottilli, 7, whose dad, Dan, brought him to get a feel of the circus knowing the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is closing in May.

Rick Wallenda emerged just before 5 p.m., as an announcer intoned that "the danger is real." He tested the wire one last time, then began.

On his way, he paused and shouted, "Something is slipping."

Veronica Sarkis, 8, held her breath and twisted her fingers, telling her friend Kira Gianfilippo, 7, that she didn't like it. But she didn't stop staring.

Five minutes later, when Wallenda arrived safely on the other side of the wire to whoops and applause, Veronica cheered, too.

"It's really cool because I've never seen this before," she said. "And I'm really happy he did not fall."

Anne Bleicher, 83, who attended with her sisters Joanne Theriault and Mary Fallon, was equally enthralled.

"All the decades I've lived, I've never seen anything like it, so it was fantastic," said Bleicher. "But I would not attempt it."

Such reactions are what keep Wallenda on the wire.

"There are certain times when I want everyone to keep quiet," he said. "But I want to know we've made them happy. We are going to make America gasp again."

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or jsolochek@tampabay.com. Follow @jeffsolochek.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Amber Carr, center, wipes a tear as her sister, Ashley Carr, left, and attorney Lee Merritt, right, listen to their brother Adarius Carr talk about their sister, Atatiana Jefferson during a news conference Monday, Oct. 14, 2019 in downtown Dallas. The family of the 28-year-old black woman who was shot and killed by a white police officer in her Fort Worth home as she played video games with her 8-year-old nephew expressed outrage that the officer has not been arrested or fired. (Irwin Thompson/The Dallas Morning News via AP) AP
    The white, former Fort Worth police officer has been booked in jail on a murder charge for the shooting of a black woman through a window in her home.
  2. Tikerria Nashay Bell, 21, was arrested on a charge of attempted murder. Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
    She fled with their 18-month-old daughter, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
  3. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. TMCCARTY  |  times staff
    Police say it appears the girl was accidentally left inside the Jeep on Monday morning.
  4. The Tampa Bay Times' annual Medicare Guide explains how the program is set up, helps you compare options available in the Tampa Bay area, and points the way toward help, including free, one-on-one assistance. This illustration will grace the cover of LifeTimes on Oct. 23, when the guide will be published in print. RON BORRESEN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    As the open enrollment period begins, it’s time to review your coverage.
  5. The Medicare Handbook for 2020 is a good resource to have as the annual open enrollment period gets under way. The government usually mails beneficiaries a copy. Find a PDF version to print at medicare.gov/pub/medicare-you-handbook, or call 1-800-633-4227 (1-800-MEDICARE) to order a copy. THOMAS TOBIN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The open enrollment period, which lasts into December, is a time for millions of beneficiaries to review, and possibly change, their coverage.
  6. Medicare's online Plan Finder has been redesigned and is available at medicare.gov/find-a-plan. THOMAS TOBIN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The most-used tool on Medicare.gov will look different this year.
  7. Jim Tolbert, left, staffs a booth at a senior expo for Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders, or SHINE, a state program that answers Medicare and other insurance questions. The program has scheduled a number of events around the Tampa Bay area during Medicare's open enrollment period, Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. Times (2015)
    About 500 volunteers statewide are at the ready. They work for Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders, or SHINE, now in its 28th year.
  8. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. TMCCARTY  |  times staff
    The Fort Myers woman stepped in front of the plane and was struck.
  9. James Dailey, 73, is set to be executed on Nov. 7 for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. Left: Dailey at his 1987 trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to death. Middle: Dailey in 1993, when he was again sentenced to die. Right: The most current photo of Dailey on Florida's Death Row. Tampa Bay Times
    James Dailey’s execution remains set for Nov. 7. On Monday, a judge denied efforts to overturn his death sentence after a former prosecutor testified.
  10. Investigators are collecting evidence at the scene of a fatal stabbing on the 4000 block of 68th Street N. The victim was trying to break into a house, the Sheriff's Office said. KATHRYN VARN   |   TIMES  |  Kathryn Varn
    The dead man had sneaked out of a group home a block away. It’s unlikely charges will be filed, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement