DOWNTOWN — Nik Wallenda walked over the Chicago River — and lived to talk about it.
What's more, his encore — walking with a blindfold between the 50-story Marina City towers — was also a huge success.
He set two world records along the way, and thrilled millions of people watching around the world. There were also an estimated 65,000 people on the streets below. Others watched from their balconies, including just feet below Wallenda at Marina City.
Mauricio Pena was there, and says it was nerve-racking to watch:
He implored those people to pipe down so he could hear his father calling out his steps as he walked blindfolded.
When he was done, he raised his hand in triumph. Later, he said he plans to recreate a famous tightrope walk that will include two head stands.
Crowds teemed through Downtown, with thousands corralled on Wacker Drive and others watching from the warmth of office buildings and, of course, condos in Marina City.
While crowds waited — Wallenda's first step took place 90 minutes after the Discovery Channel broadcast began — helicopters zipped overhead. An enterprising man tried to sell passersby a seat he'd commandeered near a bus stop.
When finally Wallenda took his first steps on the wire, cheers erupted from the streets, and flashbulbs popped.
"I'm shaking," said a woman watching the spectacle from the AMA Building.
"He looks comfortable," said a man watching from the same building.
Wallenda swiftly made his way across the 454-foot gap, pausing briefly twice. The 15-degree incline — some 80 feet or so — appeared to slow him. But his pace quickened as he neared the top of the Leo Burnett building, and he triumphantly raised his arms.
The walk across the river was estimated to take at least 12 to 15 minutes to complete. Wallenda finished in 6 minutes and 50 seconds.
The crowds dispersed quickly after Wallenda's first feat. But he wasn't done.
The second leg of his act was to traverse the 94 feet between the Marina City Towers — blindfolded.
He completed the walk in minutes.
During a news conference after the spectacle, Wallenda thanked the City of Chicago for making the event possible and lauded the 65,000 spectators for the support.
"The crowd was unbelievable, no question about it, that's what really builds my confidence," Wallenda said. "Born to perform in front of a live audience ... hearing that screaming and roaring is just an unbelievable feeling."
Spectators' feelings ran the gamut as they watched Wallenda walk the wire.
Daisy Araujo, 50, who arrived at 1 p.m. to avoid the crowds, said she prayed for three hours leading up to the walk.
"I was so scared, Araujo said "But it was spectacular."
Carrie LeJeun, 53, who watched from the 30th floor of the west Marina City tower, said she had no doubt that Wallenda would make it across safely.
"I had complete confidence," LeJeun said. "I follow his training; I know that if he keeps a steady cadence, he can walk forever."
LeJeun, who has been following the Wallenda family since the 1970s, was overjoyed that she got to see Wallenda walk in Chicago.
"Watching it in person really gives you perspective on the entire walk," LeJeun said. "It's one thing to see it on television, it's another to see in person.
"He made his grandfather proud."
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