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. Eric McNeil Jr., 25, faces a charge of second-degree murder and two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm, police said. Tampa Police Department
    A man was found dead on E Fowler Avenue near the railroad tracks. Now police have made an arrest.
  2. Yosvanys Infante, 29, faces a charge of first-degree murder according to police. Tampa Police Department
    Yosvanys Infante was linked to a fatal shooting that took place on Sept. 21, according to Tampa police.
  3. Parents of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a shooter killed 17 people in 2018, push petitions for 2020 ban on assault weapons in Florida. (Miami Herald) MIAMI HERALD  |
    After months of glitches, the Department of State is resorting to a paper workaround while ballot initiatives face higher costs.
  4. Guests of the Flying Bridge at the Tradewinds Resort, which is now under new ownership. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
    The new owner says he plans to keep its management and 1,100 employees.
  5. Former Pasco County Corrections Officer Wendy Miller, 57 runs towards gunfire with instructor Chris Squitieri during active shooter drills taught by Pasco County Sheriff's Office at Charles S. Rushe Middle School in Land O' Lakes. These drills are put are a larger training program for the Guardian program that will staff elementary schools with trained armed guards.  LUIS SANTANA   |   Times "LUIS SANTANA  |  TIMES"  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The change is a reversal of a previous move by the department, which specifically excluded armed teachers from its policy.
  6. A vistor at Harvest Moon Fun Farm's grabs a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch in Masaryktown. ANGELIQUE HERRING  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Things to do for Halloween in Pasco and Hernando counties
  7. Dr. Harvey Partridge and his wife Pat were killed when their plane crashed on approach to Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Harvey Partridge founded St. Petersburg's Partridge Animal Hospital in 1978. This photo was posted in 2017 to the hospital's Facebook page. St. Petersburg's Partridge Animal Hospital Facebook page
    Harvey and Pat Partridge’s plane disappeared from the airport radar. The wreckage was found the next day.
  8. The University of South Florida has earned national accolades for its push to raise graduation rates. Student loan debt in Florida is so crushing that it makes it hard to afford a house.
    Staggering debt loads make it hard to buy a home.
  9. A meteor is seen streaking left to right above the constellation Orion in the early hours of Dec. 14, 2012 in the sky above Tyler, Texas.  The metor is part of the Geminid meteor shower, which is peaking tonight.  As many as 50 per hour are being seen.  The meteors radiate from the region of sky containing the constellation Gemini which give them their name.  (AP Photo/Dr. Scott M. Lieberman) DR. SCOTT M. LIEBERMAN  |  AP
    Considered one of “most beautiful meteor showers of the year” by NASA, the Orionids are expected to peak Monday night into Tuesday morning.
  10. Bayonet Point Middle School teacher Cynthia Thompson wants to become Pasco County schools superintendent. Courtesy of Cynthia Thompson
    Cynthia Thompson is a graduation enhancement instructor at Bayonet Point Middle School.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement