Angel, blonde hair glowing in the spotlight, dressed in a bright turquoise jumpsuit, was a stunning figure.
She put her good foot on the steel wire. She swung her her artificial leg and when the plastic foot landed softly on the wire, you could have heard a pin drop. It was a long moment. 3,000 people became one as they focused on Angel.
She took a step forward, and then, with her prothesis, another. She was nervous. I wondered if I was going to have a heart attack.
She faced a 30-foot span with nothing between her and the hardwood floor 16 feet below. In a few unbearable moments she was in the middle, where the wire sags just a little. The tiniest misplaced move could end in a fall.
I swear you could feel the entire gym audience supporting her, praying for her. . .
So was I. When you produce a special event you’re in a place somewhere between God and a gray area. I wanted her to succeed for herself, and feel victory, hear applause, soak in the love. I wanted to raise money to help her. I also wanted her to succeed so the university would benefit from the media coverage. I wanted her to succeed, too, because if she didn’t, Mansfield would be remembered as the university where Angel Wallenda fell and ended her career.
Her walk seemed to take forever.
When she reached the platform on the other end, the gym burst into, I think, the most heartfelt, exuberant applause I’ve ever heard in my life.
She turned and walked back. All of us felt easier about that trip. She was good. She had no feeling in the plastic leg but somehow she had learned to make it work. We were seeing something unique, remarkable, almost miraculous.
A young woman with two partial lungs, an artificial leg, needing cancer treatments, yet so full of hope, confidence and determination that she inspired people around the world.
That night at Mansfield University, Angel Wallenda truly became the Angel of the high wire.
* * *
Angel was no stranger to publicity but the Farewell Walk at Mansfield University made her an icon. She appeared on talk shows around the country. Whenever little Steve appeared, he wore a Mansfield University sweat shirt.
My department won a CASE award for Special Events and I was invited to speak at a CASE conference. I was asked to write articles. I was a 15-minute expert on special events.
I thought the The Farewell walk was the end of my relationship with the Wallendas.
I was wrong.
Two years later, I was involved with Steve Wallenda again. This event nearly did end in tragedy.