Will Gadd on dangerous sports "The only path I can ride"

Some words about extreme sports from Will Gadd. He makes the case that it is not a tragedy when a guy dies while doing what he loves.  It is futile to tell some men not to act like men because they will act like real men anyway. I love paragliding – an extreme aviation sport. But I am also aware of the dangers and do whatever I can to minimize the risk. No matter how hard I work at it, those risks will always be there each time I leave the earth.  Like Mr. Gadd, it's the only path I can ride.  One of Mr. Gadd's close friends, Stewart Midwinter was badly injured when the two of them were flying paragliders in Alberta, Canada.  Watch this video of Mr. Midwinter's accident and his partial recovery at Mount Lady MacDonald.  It is sobering.  If you still would like to fly, then you are like Mr. Gadd and myself.  However, consider what your death or a serious injury, like Stewart's, will affect your family and friends.  They will be the ones who will grieve at your death or the ones who must change your diaper and feed you.  Also consider what happened to other quadriplegics, like Joni Eriksson Tada who was badly abused by vicious and mean nurses in rehabilitation facilities.  She just had to lay there, helpless, while they made her condition worse, a sort of painless torture she had to undergo.  Of course, if you have no family or friends, your death will be inconsequential but not a serious injury.  You might get good care and have to suffer decades in a bed or wheelchair.  I think it is a tragedy if you cannot use the toilet, for example, and someone else must clean you up.  In this respect I must disagree with Mr. Gadd about what constitutes "tragedies".  Something to think about.... – Had

Monday, June 08, 2009

Another one down...

Sometime in the last few weeks Johnny Copp died in an avalanche in China, likely along with Micah Dash and Wade Johnson. Johnny had spent some time in the basement Hilton at our house, and I'd known him for a bunch of years. I'd only met Micah a few times and didn't know Wade, but I'm sorry to hear that all three are permanently out of the great game of life. They added to it in a hugely positive way.

Every spring I involuntarily think of the springs of 2005 and 2006; during those two springs seven friends died in clusters only a few months apart. None of them died of old age. The older I get the less sure I am of the glib responses and justifications I've always used for living a risky life. I still believe that for me it's the only path I can ride, but the odds become more and more obvious as I age. I recently wrote about the odds of dying while climbing in Explore magazine [I can't find a direct link to that story on-line – HR]. My conclusion was that climbing and most mountain sports are a lot riskier than we like to think they are. Sport climbing on good rock is probably the only form of climbing one can expect to do for a lifetime and actually die from something other than climbing in the end. And even in the controlled "sport" environment almost every long-term sport climber I know has hit the ground at least once, always in a "fluke" accident. As I read the on-line forums about accidents and death I keep hearing the words "Fluke" and "Tragedy." Both these words are nonsense when applied to accidents in mountain sports.

For me I'm never going to use the word "tragedy" in reference to a climbing or mountain sports accident again. A tragedy is when a whole family gets killed by a drunk driver. A tragedy is when a little kid gets abused. A tragedy is when a 30-year old mother of two young kids gets cancer and dies. Dying while climbing, kayaking, paragliding, BASE jumping or any other form of outdoor recreation isn't a [expletive deleted] tragedy, it's a clearly predictable result of doing the activity. If I or anyone goes out while doing our sports with a clear understanding of the game we're playing then let's have a drink, cheer for the life lived, and move on as best we can. I know it's not that simple as death leaves huge craters in life, but I think that's the only sane response I can give to the continued and voluntary mountain carnage I keep seeing year in and year out. To celebrate the rewards without clearly understanding the risks is not only bad math but blatant self-deception.

So here's to all my friends who went out with their boots on. And to my two friends currently in the hospital, you're [expletive deleted] lucky, and I'm glad you were.

Posted by Will Gadd at 6:09 AM