Tuesday, June 25, 2013

True Ice in his Veins: Why Nik Wallenda's Skywire is Still the Story of the Week

   Wow, what a week in sports, friends. We crowned a NBA Champion in the Miami Heat, the Chicago Blackhawks hoisted the Stanley Cup in hockey, the NFL fulfilled its annual quota for a WTF-crime (Deadspin or something should really do a Criminal of the Year—maybe that can be our thing; I can write it down next to the Celebrity Crush Power Rankings), and Spain’s international soccer team beat Just-happy-to-be-here-Tahiti 10-0.
   Oh, and a guy freaking crossed the Grand Canyon by walking on a wire.
   Although folks in Chicago might beg to differ (not folks in Miami though, they don’t care about anything), Nik Wallenda’s quarter-mile Skywire event was the story of the week, and if you ask me, one of the most intense things I have ever seen on television.
   It is not every day you father rushes home, bursts into the family room, and tells everyone to turn on the Discovery Channel. There was Nik, all by himself, 1500 feet above the bottom of the Grand Canyon, balancing on a cable barely two inches wide, with no net below him. If I can tell you one thing about watching this live, it is that the worst moment was when you first see it. My heart jolted. I could not look away. I waited. In those first few minutes, all you do is just wait for something horrible to happen. There is very little quite like it.
   The Discovery Channel made two brilliant moves: putting a microphone on Nik, and putting a camera on him. By far the craziest shots were from our hero’s perspective—a top-down view of his feet as they step . . . step . . . step high above what would absolutely be certain death. Even watching at home, it was nuts. As a spectator, there was no looking away; it barely seemed an option in your brain.
   As mentally taxing as it is to watch, it is impossible to fathom the mental toughness of a highwire walker themselves. Consider that Wallenda was essentially a constant stream of prayers and thanks and assurances for all 22 minutes of his walk—it takes one hell of a focus and one hell of a presence of mind. If a bird swoops down and he jerks up to react—game over. If that wind that harassed him catches him even a little off guard—game over. If sweat rolls into his eyes, he has to just deal with it, because clearing his vision would see him waiver—game over. That is why the microphone was such a great move. We heard all his mental checks throughout the whole thing; he reminded himself where he was, what he was doing, what he had left to do—the guy was sharp.
   The prayers, too, were very telling. Does it not just make sense, for a guy who has formed a career out of death-defying stunts, to have such insane faith, in not only God, but himself? Whether you are a believer or not, it was downright inspiring. This is someone who comes from a long line of highwire-walkers, someone who has had extended family members die from doing this very same thing, and someone who continues to achieve through some types of adversity that the rest of us might not ever feel. Amazing.
   In sports analysis, there is a lot of talk about the people who are considered to have “ice in their veins.” Michael Jordan, Adam Vinatieri, Abby Wambach, Muhammad Ali, Tim Tebow, David Ortiz—these were the guys and gals who, in their primes, just plain finished the job, and looking at that list, you have a group of people who, as lame and cornball as it sounds, had faith in themselves. That is where it starts. That sees the ice begin to flow in the veins—you have to believe you will deliver, hope alone is not enough (this might be a whole other article, but LeBron James might be growing to realize this). Bottom line: Nik Wallenda has ice in his veins, and he belongs among the top clutch athletes of our time. He is doing what no one has ever done before, in a way few of us have ever experienced. He is doing it with grace, poise, and an amazing story to back it all up.  This is a guy to keep track of in the years to come.
   Celebrate your championships—these moments are a dime a dozen, and there is nothing quite like them, but there is even less like crossing the Grand Canyon on a highwire, and we should definitely not lose sight of that. Few sports experiences have been as gut-wrenchingly intense as this, but darn it if I cannot wait for the next Nik Wallenda feat.
   We have one of the all-time greats in their field putting on a show before our very eyes—let’s give him the respect he deserves. Nik Wallenda has always delivered—quietly, humbly, assuredly—not something we see a lot in the modern world of sports.
   Then again, not a lot of Nik Wallenda is seen in the modern world of sports, and maybe that is the best thing of all. 

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