Social Question

GloPro's avatar

What's your opinion of extreme athletes and mourning their deaths?

Asked by GloPro (8199 points ) March 28th, 2014 from iPhone

Sean Leary died 2 days ago doing a solo moonlight BASE jump. No one knew he was dead until he failed to show up for work. Because he was alone, clearly he wasn’t jumping for the publicity.
His wife is 7 months pregnant.

One of my favorite athletes ever, Shane McConkey died combining BASE jumping with extreme skiing. His daughter was 3 when he died.

Obviously there is something in extreme athletes that pushes them to attempt these insane jumps. Could they ever live normal lives? Are they being selfish? What are your thoughts and reactions to their deaths? Should BASE jumping be outlawed?

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51 Answers

syz's avatar

I’ve often been perplexed by memorial stickers on the back of trucks and cars for race car drivers that die on the track. Why the ash and sackcloth for someone who chose to drive 200 miles an hour on a small track with 20 other cars?

For whatever reason they chose to do these risky behaviors (fame, fortune, thrill, whatever), they accepted a great deal of risk and should have had a realistic awareness that they could die.

Hopefully their spouses were also aware of those risks.

I’ve partaken in plenty of risky behaviors over my life (tiger attacks, motorcycles, rock climbing), but I probably wouldn’t have done most of the things that I did had I had children (dependents).

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I don’t see anything wrong with trying these kinds of things. I was an adrenaline junky growing up, and I did some insane stuff. But the big point is I didn’t have anyone relying on me for direct support. I would never have kids and try this stuff. I think that is wrong on way too many levels.

GloPro's avatar

@syz I don’t know any extreme athletes that believe they will live long lives. Most just don’t think about that aspect of life in any way.
Isn’t the death of a friend worth mourning, regardless of circumstance? Should we only memorialize people who die through no fault of their own?

syz's avatar

^ Is it a friend? Would you have ever heard of these people if they hadn’t exhibited this thrill seeking behavior?

The first time I saw a video of Dan Osman I thought to myself “There’s a man that won’t live to a ripe old age.”, not realizing that he had already died in a climbing accident. Jeb Corliss is my hero, but I won’t be shocked when he dies. Sad that such a free spirit has been snuffed out, but not shocked. If he’s accepted that he may die from what he loves, then I accept it too.

I live near Charlotte NC, and it just bugs me when people are still saying things like “It’s such a tragedy that we lost Dale Earnhardt.” It’s not a tragedy, it’s a likely probability. I think the loss of my grandmother is a much bigger tragedy that some dude than drove fast and made lots of money off of it.

GloPro's avatar

@syz No, I did not personally know Sean. I live in an area full of extreme athletes and know many. He was found by a Search team, which is something close to me.
I’ve met Shane McConkey; his family still lives in this area. I followed his entire career and credit him with revamping the ski industry. In addition I can vouch that he was a genuinely nice guy and could not have lived his life any other way. I watched him BASE jump off of the tallest building in Reno. He was in his element. When he died I cried many times. I cried watching a movie released just last year. I think everyone that knew him or of him still mourns.
I cried when Sarah Burke died. There are several others I have mourned.

I don’t think you have to personally know someone to feel happy for them when they achieve personal greatness. Or mourn them when they fail. Extreme athletes don’t have the luxury of small mistakes.

Judi's avatar

Years ago I read an article about extreme athletes like this. There is something in their brain that needs, is addicted to the adrenaline. They said that this is also present in extreme criminals so if those were his two choices I would choose the crazy BASE jumping.
Condolences to his family. I’m sure his wife knew the risks when she married him and as much as possible prepared herself for the possibility of this news. It still doesn’t make it easy, but as someone who was married to a person who had severe depression and lived with the possibility of his death daily, I can say that there is something to be said for processing this possibility ahead of time and planning how you will react. I know that helped me get through the death of my first husband.
The pregnancy is so sad. Living in the shadow of a dead legend you never met is a hard cross to bear.

Dutchess_III's avatar

My husband raced. I think it just never occurred to him that he could really, truly die.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Dutchess_III I think we always know what can happen, and it can kill us, we just take precautions to shift the odds in our favor if something bad happens.

hearkat's avatar

I am also a fan of Jeb Corliss and I saw an interview with his mom once and how she came to terms with him performing such dangerous activities, and she basically just realized that it is his passion and what makes him happy – so if he dies, at least he’ll be doing what he loves. The World Wingsuit League has posted nice memorials on social media when one of these athletes dies. They all seem to respect how dangerous it is and accept their responsibilities for the risks.

I was concerned that my son might be a daredevil, as his father had that “live fast, die hard” mentality. He scared himself out of it when he was 10, though. He and a friend built a ramp for their bikes at the friends house, and the angle was all wrong – he went way up in the air and his little life flashed before his eyes when he realized he wouldn’t be able to land it. Fortunately, he was not seriously injured. He has many sets of stitches in his head, but never broke any bones other than his finger, and a bad leg sprain from snowboarding. He and I went skydiving together and he loved it, but never took it up as a hobby.

I was thrilled when he sold his crotch-rocket, though – which he admitted to me he’d taken up as fast as 180 MPH on the highway. I would rather that he sought his thrills in more controlled situations – like at a racetrack – rather than on the streets, where even just commuting to work is a dangerous undertaking with all the people not paying attention behind the wheel. If he did pursue adventure sports more seriously, I think I’d be like Jeb’s mom – it“s his life to choose his own path, I can only hope that he finds a path that brings him such joy.

GloPro's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe I disagree. For extreme athletes they don’t try to shift the odds. That can get you killed. They rely on instinct under pressure to a large degree. My friends tell me that their brains literally go silent when they drop in, jump off, etc. of course they experiment in controlled settings during practice, but most largely just trust and feel it out. Every one of them has an injury list a mile long.
@hearkat My 3 year old nephew has an extremely high pain threshold and absolutely no fear. He’s had staples and stitches to his face or head 4 times now. My sister wishes he wasn’t built that way, none of the other kids are. She has decided to channel his personality into athletics, which will most likely be extreme sports at the rate he is developing.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@GloPro You’re right with the real extreme athletes. They go totally by instinct. I was thinking of the racers. They have the five point seatbelts, HANS devices, roll cages etc.

Darth_Algar's avatar

I can’t really speak for other extreme sport, but honestly, auto racing is not nearly as dangerous as many people like to think. With the way those cars are built and all the safety features installed those guys are far safer doing what they do that you are driving to work. I’ve watched racetrack pile-ups involving 10 cars at 180 mph and the worst injury was a bit tongue.

Dutchess_III's avatar

You mean like this @Adirondackwannabe. Rick’s last race about 8 years ago. Left him with a demolished collar bone. (The video is REALLY boring, until Rick wrecks at about 2:37. I’m looking for a way to edit out the rest in youtube, haven’t found it yet.)

GloPro's avatar

@syz Didn’t Jeb break both femurs on a rock ledge a couple of years ago? I may be thinking of someone else…

GloPro's avatar

@Dutchess_III argh! I can’t watch because I don’t use Google+. Tease!

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Can’t get it either.

GloPro's avatar

I thought so. A friend of mine who pilots for the Navy was getting into jumping until that happened. He feels safer in his jet now. It’s funny where some people set their bars, I guess.

@syz Good clip. “With our cameraman trailing behind…” Cameramen never get enough credit.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It’s really boring anyway! Even the wreck is boring!

GloPro's avatar

@Dutchess_III I bet Rick didn’t think so.

Dutchess_III's avatar

No, neither did the paramedics. He was writhing and twisting around on the ground afterward. They were hesitant to remove his helmet because they didn’t know if he had a neck injury. They were also concerned about brain damage. I got down on the ground and peered under his helmet. He was snarling, “Get this fucking helmet off of me! Get this Goddamned thing off!
I stood up and said, “He’s alright (mentally).”
All those medical professionals looked at me like I was God Jr. or something.
I said, “Well, yeah. He acts like this after sex, too.” That just fell out of my mouth.
They took him to the ER, where upon I proceeded to get all the patients in the ER drunk on Gatoraide and vodka.

LuckyGuy's avatar

If they accept responsibility for their own actions I don’t mind them doing it. My objection arises when others are forced to pay for their mistakes: huge medical bills, insurance payouts, social security for their family. All that comes out of our collective pockets and, selfishly, I don’t want to pay for it.
I also don’t want to pay for a crack head’s medical bills, but that is a different story.

I can’t help think the attraction isn’t further fueled by the availability of the latest and greatest GoPro camera equipment (Now in 4D High Def!!!)and easy access to free world wide recognition through social media.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I just got a notice from Garmin touting their new VIRB HD 1080p Action Cam.

The text says “The VIRB is designed to withstand every adventure, misadventure, double dog dare, near miss, epic feat and moments of glory on the field, on the trail or in your backyard – and get up to do it again.”

“Dude I can totally jump over that fire pit Get the camera and duct tape it to my head..” (And my hospital rates go up another 0.001%.)

GloPro's avatar

@LuckyGuy There may be some truth to that, but I believe that, as @Judi mentioned, with extreme athletes there is a chemical makeup that drives a genuine need for constant stimuli. Coupled with high pain thresholds and low fear, these individuals just aren’t able to live normal lives. This article describes it better than most, in various levels.

Most athletes have sponsors to alleviate the costs involved, including medical. All of them have medical helicopter insurance. There are calculated cushions for sponsored extreme athletes. They take medical response teams on location with them. Most Search and Rescue teams are volunteer. Going after Sean didn’t deplete any resources.

Out of curiosity, @LuckyGuy, if one of the 3 Sochii medalists that live in my town got injured over there would you be more willing to help with medical costs? Or maybe less objectionable? Those girls have sacrificed, and their families have put themselves into debt, to get to where they are now. Now that they are medalists they are sitting pretty financially, but they have certainly spent their fair share of time in the ER and pay heavily for health insurance. I’m not saying you should pay for them, and I don’t believe that you do. I’m speaking hypothetically.

JLeslie's avatar

We obviously don’t want anyone to die, so mourning them is ok, but I do have a problem with people who risk their lives like that. Their brains definitely are different. I think there are various “extremes” of extreme athletes.

My husband races cars and I have zero desire to do any such thing. I don’t enjoy going fast in a car close to a wall around a curve. My husband is not as extreme as some people though. He doesn’t seek danger at every turn (pun intended). He really enjoys that change in G force feeling. He likes roller coasters too. I am not afraid on a roller coaster, but I hate the feeling when it is very steep, or very fast, or almost makes me weightless. He loves it.

However, he does not want to jump out of a plane, or go up in a hot air balloon, or climb the highest mountain. He is very selective. Some people with this type of brain want to do all sorts of different life threatening things.

I hate feeling wound up. I can actually and up my metabolism with my thyroid medication and I would much rather be undermedicated than overmedicated if I have to pick. More medication and I need less sleep, can get more done, even lose weight if I eat the same, and I absolutely hate it. I never purposely stay in that state it is so uncomfortable to me.

GloPro's avatar

I think part of the reason I mourn them is because I’m sad they don’t get to jump anymore. We love watching each stunt they do. They are living a life other people just don’t get. Their deaths are like snuffing a flame that burns hotter than most.

Darth_Algar's avatar

I wonder if @LuckyGuy begrudges other insurance payouts.

JLeslie's avatar

@GloPro I don’t enjoy watching them, it makes me uncomfortable.

ucme's avatar

Nowt wrong with pushing the limits, their deaths are no less tragic simply because they pursued danger.

GloPro's avatar

@JLeslie the video @syz posted of Jeb Corliss (his first post) is probably his most famous jump (thanks to GoPro, @LuckyGuy). It allows those of us that sit behind desks or in front of computers to feel that adrenaline rush without leaving our seats. I attend many extreme competitions, and it’s amazing to watch people control their bodies like that. People are amazing, and I am reminded of that when I see these fearless stunts. It helps me think “if they can do that, I can do this” and encourages me to push my own limits. My ceiling is nowhere near theirs, but I would have never thought I could be on a high-angle rescue team. I was afraid of heights when I joined the team. Now it’s pure energy for me.

GloPro's avatar

@hearkat Thanks for sharing. Yep, cried again…

Coloma's avatar

Well…it is sad, however, I agree, no surprise when one is involved in risky sports and stunts.
I rode horses for years and have had some serious injuries, pins in my bones, scars, concussions. Risk goes with the territory. Race cars, horses, skiing, whatever….it is what it is.

Cruiser's avatar

I am not one to judge the choices people make in life. I stand just as much odds of dying as the next average Joe…but when you add extreme anything into your lifestyle you seriously increase your odds of an early burial. I admire people that live on the edge and I live vicariously through watching these thrill seekers do mind blowing over the edge stuff. But personally IMO I think if you are going to breed and have kids to raise you should wait to do so till you are done doing extreme stuff especially stunts like this

rojo's avatar

@syz Why were you attacking tigers?

GloPro's avatar

I’m sorry. This is my post, my question. Anyone that has anything other than lurve for Shane McConkey may kiss my ass. Thank you.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Hi, I’m back. Sorry for the delay. Sometimes, the real world gets in the way.
To answer some of the questions posed here.

I think insurance is a great idea and I am more than willing to put in my 3 cents to help people who really had no control over the situation. If you are walking along and a car hops the curb and “bam!” you are hit – tell me where to send the money. You never smoked and was one out of 4000 people who got lung cancer. No problem – here is my check.

I object to people who make outrageous stunts expecting society to help them if/when they go wrong. We will send the search and rescue team out to save them when they get stuck. We’ll send out the Medivac helicopter. We’ll stop taking care of emergency patients in the ER to cover their “code blue” call.
Since we are a great, powerful, charitable country we will willingly put other people’s lives at risk to cover the thrill seeking whims of others.

I don’t object to anyone doing it. I would, however, like to see them sign a waiver that they will be held personally responsible for a percentage (even just 10%) of the resources their stunt cost society – meaning us.

Want to ride your motorcycle without a helmet? Fine! But sign this waiver that you will not expect society to pay for your head or brain injury should you fall at 30 mph and crack your head against the pavement. All the rehab will be out of your pocket. Deal?

Our country is not a rich as it once was. We can’t keep paying for preventible, foolish expenses. I put other things in that category – drug use. alcohol abuse, obesity, (Yep, I said it.)
Maybe it is a bit like tough love. People need to be responsible for their own actions.

We sit at our kitchen tables, sipping morning coffee, watching Thrill Porn and never think of the true expense. Shane’s family is paying some of the horrific cost. So sad.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@LuckyGuy

The thing is, however, is that insurance isn’t exactly charity. They they pay into their insurance just like you pay into yours. In fact they pay a much higher rate than you because of what they do.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Darth_Algar Unless they are being compensated and have mandatory Workmans comp insurance, I doubt most of them pay any more than someone of their gender and age. They just do it.
In NY, the only state I am familiar with, Workmans comp rates are dependent upon the job and the annual pay. (I know this because I have to pay for my various employees.) The employer of a system analyst (desk job) will pay 20 cents per $100 of salary. The employer of a radio tower service tech (climber) will pay $100 for every $100 in salary!

The person jumping off a cliff is putting more than just himself at risk. Ask Shane McConkey’s widow and child.

Let’s not forget the law firm of Shyster and Shyster who, no doubt, is starting a lawsuit against the property owner – for having a public nuisance , GoPro – for encouraging and distracting the operator , Facebook – for encouraging the behavior by disseminating the video, the equipment manufacturer, etc. (Obviously I made that all up but if I had to bet, I’d bet that I am not too far off.)

Darth_Algar's avatar

Extreme athletes, race care drivers, etc, don’t get workman’s comp. They’re independent contractors who must provide for their own insurance and such. They don’t have the benefit of an employer paying into insurance on their behalf. And yeah, they do pay higher insurance rates because they have risky occupations. I’ve known, for example, a few pro wrestlers and they pay much higher rates on their health insurance because, surprise, pro wrestling tends to be an injury prone occupation.

Regardless, the fact remains they have just as much right to the insurance they’ve paid into as you or I do. Unless your argument is that people should not receive more from insurance payouts than they’ve paid into, in which case what would be the point of insurance at all when a savings account would work just as well?

JLeslie's avatar

@Darth_Algar Someone like my husband who races, but is not a professional racer, doesn’t pay more for health insurance. Health insurance would cover if he was injured though. He definitely is not covered by car insurance on the track. A lot of people who do extreme activites do it on their own time, not as a profession.

GloPro's avatar

Extreme sports insurance This is a supplemental accident insurance that only kicks in if you are injured while participating in an extreme sport. It covers amateurs and professionals.

Sarah Burke’s family was hit with a medical bill for $550,000 after her death. They negotiated the bill down with the hospital and raised the money from her fans and supporters to pay it off.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@JLeslie Hence my use of the term “occupation” multiple times. Perhaps I’m wrong, but the main crux of the thread seemed to me to be about those who did such things professionally, as for the most part it’s been professionals mentioned in this thread.

JLeslie's avatar

@Darth_Algar I guess you are right, but my mind goes to the non-professional. I think of people like Olympic athletes, Diana Nyad, weekend mountain climbers, and adrenaline junkies who will try any daring thing under the sun.

GloPro's avatar

I consider Olympic athletes professionals, don’t you?

JLeslie's avatar

@GloPro No, I don’t. Sometimes they also do their sport as a profession, but not always.

GloPro's avatar

Huh. Off of the top of my head, every skier and snowboarder I can think of does it for a living. I’m not talking about the curlers… I’m talking about the extreme sports athletes. I can’t think of any that aren’t pros.

JLeslie's avatar

@GloPro I guess I am old enough that I remember when there was a big outcry to allow professionals to compete. I think it was in the late 1970’s they finally changed the rules. America felt it was unfair that countries like Russia had athletes who could focus solely on their sport, because the communist country took care of its athletes. There were some instances in the early and mid part of the 20th century where medal winners were discovered to have worked as professionals in their sport and they were stripped of their medals.

Darth_Algar's avatar

Modern Olympic athletes are absolutely professional. They may not necessarily be paid to compete specifically, but the kind of sponsor money they get allows them to peruse it full time. Much like the Soviet athletes of former days who had all their needs paid for by the state so they could focus on their sport and their sport alone.

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