Is he fearless, or crazy?

Published 6:37 am Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The tree house seemed so high when I was a kid. It was big enough for several kids and even had rails around it to keep us from falling out. Many years later, I returned to the site where the tree house had been built between three trees. As an adult it was about eye level, making me wonder why the height scared me so.

People that don’t like heights often keep the fear to themselves. On a business trip to Chicago years ago, several of us went to the top of the Hancock Tower which is 95 stories tall. The observation deck has windows from floor to ceiling offering a spectacular view of city in every direction.

I noticed that one person in our party was missing. I found him literally hugging the inside wall of the room near the elevator. He could not make himself move toward the window to enjoy the view. Even though I had known him for years, I had absolutely no idea that he had a fear of heights.

Email newsletter signup

Several years later, I gave my wife a trip in a hot air balloon. Thinking I had given her an extraordinary gift, I was stunned when she said after opening the package, “Is this a joke?” Even after being married for almost three decades at the time, I had no idea she was afraid of heights.

Fear of heights is called acrophobia. A phobia is a fear that is excessive or out of proportion to the actual danger.  Some people have no fear of heights, although there is no name for that condition as far as I know.

A lack of fear of heights does open up the opportunity for some unique and well paying jobs, however. Window washers of high rise buildings get paid pretty well as they clean windows hundreds of feet above the street.

I once met a man that changed out the red blinking lights on television towers. It seemed like an easy job, especially when he told me how much he was paid per bulb. However, there is not enough money in all of television to get me to climb up a tower that high.

Tree surgeons aren’t afraid of heights and they have the ability to skinny up a tree like a monkey. Holding a 20-pound chainsaw in one hand, they cut the tree above and all around them. It is fascinating to watch, but never my own calling.

All that pales in comparison to the feat accomplished by Nik Wallenda, as he crossed over the Grand Canyon this past weekend. Fifteen hundred feet above the floor of the canyon, he walked on the two inch cable with no safety harness or net. It took him twenty three minutes, partially because the wind reached speeds of 48 miles per hour in the middle of the canyon.

More than 13 million people watched his walk on the Discovery Channel, which was delayed for 10 seconds for obvious reasons.

Wallenda apparently has no fear of heights, even with nothing to prevent his certain death with a fall. In my dictionary, that can only be called one thing: Crazy!

Dan Ponder can be reached at