I have always been a risk-taker. I climbed the tallest trees and crawled out onto the ends of branches so that I could make the tree sway. At 63, I rode bareback and raced with my 14 year old friend across a farmer’s field. In all fairness, we - our family and many others - grew up with risks – as a ten-year-old I was sent to look after my siblings at the creek, we rode on tractor fenders and in combine hoppers, we played unsupervised for hours climbing into lofts, walking on rafters and jumping into grain bins.
Today, I wonder about extreme sports and risk-taking. How much right does one have to engage in extreme sports? – like base-gliding, mountain-climbing, back-country skiing, running rapids - some of you wouldn’t think of these as extreme sports but hear me out. Is it ethical? Moral? What of the social responsibility of the rest of us? Are we required to bale the participants out when they are lost or seriously injured?
These types of sports not only depend upon a host of suppliers – food, equipment, maybe support teams – but also for the individual, time-consuming practice and often expensive equipment. It means that most of the people engaged in these sports are monied and that a lot of resources are devoted to their sport or, as some say, obsession. Often the honours go to the individual.
The human race metamorphized, developed over some 100,000 years. During that time, people used extreme skills merely to survive. For some, maybe even many today, their survival depends upon their skills.
Are extreme sports the result of a bored dis-connected human race? So far from involvement with the natural activities of daily living that Nature is merely an adversary against which to pit technological gadgets.
What would people have done in eons past? The kinds of back-country white water trips that we have taken on rivers would simply be travel between places, sometimes looking for game or fruit, and the occasional lone or paired vision questers.
Is it ethical or moral to commandeer such a range of resources for the selfish experience of one person? Does the lost back-country skier get hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on him while the woman missing on a city street gets nothing? Is his value greater because he is male or because he is heroically pushing his limits? Worse, is his Everest conquering experience there for all of us to experience vicariously while no one wishes to share the experience of Syrians in refugee camps.
I'm only asking the question, a question about values.
About myself? I now consider consequences – at the time of the horse race, I briefly considered, in mid-gallop, the possibility that I might fall off the horse. I couldn't indulge in fear because I needed to focus on the business of staying on the horse’s back. I dredged up fifty-year old skills and we made it, a mile of stubble later, laughing and breathing as loudly as the horses, to the edge of the field. By common unspoken consent, we never raced bareback again for that distance.