I watched The Wrestler recently. Aside from being a great movie, Mickey Rourke‘s character, Randy “The Ram” Robinson, reminded me of Steve Wallenda.
Steve was grand nephew of Karl Wallenda of the Flying Wallendas, a family of high wire artists who date back to the1600’s, but who rose to international fame in the 20th century as the high wire artists who worked without a net.
Steve and his wife Angel walked into my office one September day. They introduced themselves and told me their life story.
Steve, one of the last male descendants of the famous family, met Lizzie Pintye at an ice cream shop where she worked in New York State. Later, during a performance, he invited her to walk the wire with him. She did. They fell in love and were married in 1985. He called her Angel and the name stuck.
She became part of his act, his high flying “Angel on the high wire.”
Two years later she was diagnosed with bone cancer. Her right leg was amputated below the knee in 1987. The cancer spread and parts of both of her lungs were removed the following year .
She was fitted with an artificial leg and, amazingly, became the first amputee in history to walk the high wire, still without a net.
Now, in the fall semester of 1989, they were sitting in my office. Their four-year-old son Stevie, blond like his mother, ran up and down the hallway working off his kid energy.
They were here to make a proposal. Steve outlined it.
I said I’d have to think about it, something I say to all big proposals.
I didn’t know it, but I was about to play a big role in changing their lives.
And they were going to change mine.
More in Part 2.