Rietta Wallenda, 56, poised for comeback after frightening high-wire accident

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA)—Rietta Wallenda was born into circus royalty.  She’s the granddaughter of the great Karl Wallenda.

But her family’s legacy comes with tragedy.

In 1962, Rietta’s cousin and uncle were killed when their 7-person pyramid collapsed. When a movie was made about the accident years later, Rietta was a stunt double for the film.

Then in 1978, she witnessed tragedy firsthand as she watched her legendary grandfather Karl fall to his death in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“I watched him go all the way… fall 10 stories high, and he landed on top of a taxi cab,” she recalled.  “You don’t forget an experience like that.”

So, she carried all that with her on February 8 when her team suddenly lost balance.

“Everybody fought to the very end and my idea, my thought was that, we’re gonna pull together, it’s gonna be okay, but it got worse and worse,” said Wallenda.  Then it collapsed.

“I don’t want to land on my head, I don’t want to break my neck, I don’t want to be paralyzed. I thought, maybe somebody will catch me or hit me,” she said.

But she kept falling.

“I did see the floor coming and I remember thinking how quickly it was there….The idea of being with my father, my Lord and my God in heaven, didn’t scare me,” Wallenda recalled.

Shockingly, once on the ground, she was alive! But she had painful injuries and broken bones throughout her entire body.

“[The pain] is something that is indescribable. It isn’t anything that you would ever think that you would endure,” said Wallenda.

Rietta and her cousin Lijana were badly injured, and both spent weeks recovering in the hospital.

“That’s hard when you tell an athlete they won’t be able to get out of a wheelchair for several months,” said Nik Wallenda.

“I never quit, and it was difficult at times but I never gave up,” said Rietta.

Rietta says it pays to stay healthy, because thanks in part to her strength and physique, she quickly made a full recovery. She even plans to return to performing next month. And thankfully, all the other injured members have made full recoveries too.

“What we experienced, there’s no other way to express it other than it being a miracle,” she said.

Rietta is determined to finish out her career on her own terms.

Starting in June, Rietta will be traveling with Circus Incredible, performing in shows throughout the country. To ease back into performing, she’ll only be doing some light aerial performances, but she does plan to return to the wire very soon.

Nik Wallenda has talked to the group about finishing what they started with the 8-person pyramid—right now it’s too soon, but don’t be surprised if they go back at it again.  

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