(Ed. note. This is part two of a continuing series. Click here for part 1.)
Steve Wallenda explained that they had just moved into the area. How they ended up in rural north central Pennsylvania, I don’t remember. I’m not sure I ever asked.
I said in my last post that The Wrestler reminded me of Steve. Steve was in his mid-40s He’d worked the wire and acted as a Hollywood stuntman all his life. That’s what he knew. That’s all he knew.
But when you’re in a physical profession, age takes its toll, no matter how good you are. Steve had learned from his uncles that you prepare for your event carefully. And sometimes, no matter how meticulously you prepare, something can happen and you can die quickly.
Several of Steve’s relatives had fallen to their deaths, most notably, Karl. Others were paralyzed. High wire walking is not an easy profession and in many cases, retirement is a faulty wire, or an unexpected wind gust.
Steve and Angel wanted Mansfield University to do an event — a high wire walk– to raise money for the cancer treatment. Angel’s cancer was spreading and they needed to get to California for treatment.
“The Farewell Performance of the Wallendas,” Steve said. “It’ll bring in lots of people. I’ve still got a name. I’m the last Wallenda.” This, I soon found out, was highly contested among an extended family whose name was iconic in the 20th century.
I was in the music business for a lot of years. I was also a PR person.
I understood that the Wallendas were using me. I also understood that the national publicity would benefit the university.
I would be using them.
A win-win situation.
I started working on the idea. I called Dick Jones. He recognized the potential and began pitching the national media.
Steve started calling his contacts and before we knew it, we had a mini circus — magicians, cyclists, clowns, animal acts. It would be held in Decker Gym. Like so many times when you need things to happen, I didn’t ask permission from the administration. I just began working on it.
The vice president of finance had a fit because they had to drill huge holes in the gym walls to anchor the wire. I’m pretty sure our insurance company went ballistic when they found that we were sponsoring a show with a famous aerialist, a one-legged woman walking the wire, a four-year-old boy. . . and no net.
Like so many things, entering in a state of ignorance was a blessing. Had I known what we were going to go through, I never would have done it.
I suggested they might want a net. “I’m a Wallenda,” Steve said. “The Wallendas don’t use a net. Ever.”
So be it.
Meanwhile, Dick Jones was lining up every major TV network, Associated Press, USA Today and other media.
As the date neared and the national buzz grew, I worked 14 hours a day and had trouble sleeping. If this thing succeeded, Mansfield University would be all over the world.
And if something tragic happened, Mansfield University would be all over the world.
It was too late now.
We had created something larger than all of us.
I pushed forward.