Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Extreme Daredevils

For anyone who has not watched this on television so far, it is a "series of visually stunning films following some of the world's most extreme individuals, who risk their lives pushing themselves to the physical and mental limits of human capability" - Extracted from the Daredevils web site

I have watched the last two in this series - The Ice Man and The Skywalker. The former program centres around Wim Hof, who is able to cope with freezing temperatures. In sub zero temperatures 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Dutch Daredevil Wim Hof attempts to run a full 26-mile marathon clad only in shorts and a pair of sandals.

In The Skywalker, Dean Potter is the only person in the world who does extreme slack-lining (similar to tightrope walking). We see him crossing a canyon some 3000 feet up on a one-inch-thick stretch of rope without using either a pole for balance, or any kind of safety harness.

The important question for me watching this series has not so much been why they do these extreme sports (although that would still be an interesting question to ask) but how. I find myself asking the question "could someone be trained to learn how to do that?"

They are probably not physically different from you or I, what sets them apart is their mental capacity to switch off their surrounding environment and completely focus on what they are doing. Dean Potter repeatedly talked about how slack-lining at such incredible heights would induce a state of hyper awareness, where he felt in complete control. Watching his face closely as he crossed a 3000 foot canyon in Yosemite, his face was a mask of concentration. Wim Hof would meditate and get his mind into the "zone" as he called it, before immersing himself in freezing Arctic water and doing an underwater dive.

On the one hand these are mortals made of flesh and blood just like the rest of us. What sets them apart is their ability to completely and utterly focus their minds on a task, to the exclusion of everything else. As the series has also highlighted, in their personal lives they are just as focused, and have found it difficult to form and keep normal relationships with people around them. This must be the trade off for having such enormous mental strength - shunning those around you, focusing on a task to the exclusion of everyone else.

Listening to them talking about what they did, there was always a sense of logic to their thought process. I found myself agreeing with much of their rationality and reasoning. Despite their rather extrovert behaviour, they seem to be introvert people in real life, not particularly wanting the attention that their stunts generate.

This has so far been a fascinating series, and shows just how powerful the human mind is, and what it can achieve. It has also showed some of the character make up of such people, and given us a glimpse of what drives such people to push themselves to such incredible limits!

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