I watched with horror the story of those who died in a log jam coming down after reaching the summit of Mount Everest. Those who had risked everything, and achieved what so few would even dare to think about attempting had perished. Poor planning, overcrowding, inexperienced climbers and weather all came together catastrophically.
Most asked why? Why would anyone do such a thing? Take such a risk when the odds are against you from the get go. Why are homo sapiens the only species that seek out danger? The only ones who actually run towards it and risk their lives for, dare I say it, fun? Are they crazy?
Perhaps. That’s certainly one persons definition. People always asked why I chose to jump out of a perfectly good, working plane? Twice!
The answer? It was a thrill. Period.
There’s just no other response.
I craved it.The adrenaline rush feels like nothing else. That moment when your senses are heightened to such a degree time literally slows to a crawl. As a child I satisfied that need by getting on crazy carnival rides that spun at ridiculous speeds in all directions while held together with one bolt! Literally. In College I was intimately involved in bringing one of these crazy attractions to the university of Arizona’s Spring Fling- the Zipper. I was first exposed to it at the State fair in Phoenix when I was 10. I was hooked! The idea of piling into a cage that flipped forward and backwards at high speed was intoxicating. But figuring out how to angle it at just the right moment to spin upside down was heaven. Bringing that ride to our homegrown carnival was a dream come true. Especially when I could ride with abandon even when forced to go alone because no one else would join me. That was the problem, finding like-minded people to experience it with . That was when I learned the frightening truth.
These rides are assembled and dissembled by carnival workers with no expertise and often held together with gum and a shoestring. The last thing one sees when secured inside the ride is the equivalent of a clothes hangar locking the door in place! It was then I realized how insane I really was. But that didn’t stop me for a second. The anticipation and excitement was too attractive.Why? Did I have a death wish?Absolutely not. Not once did I ever imagine I could, or would, die. But there’s no question the danger aspect adds to the high.
I also used to climb the rock cliffs of Sabino Canyon and Mount Lemon, ski down hill through moguls (large snow filled speed bumps) while playing chicken with trees. I’ve raced cars, sped down zip lines. . .
Not even when Sonny Bono died skiing into a tree in 1998 did I once think it could happen to me. Ask anyone who’s drawn to this craziness and the answer is always the same-we do it to overcome boundaries and test limits. To feel more alive in just a few seconds than any other time. And it’s addictive. Carnival rides no longer sufficed so it was onto bigger and more dangerous methods to get a fix. But none of us want to die or be hurt. Most take appropriate measures to keep the odds of injury low. But they are never zero. For me, I had to ask what risk is appropriate?
When I wanted to go hang gliding I was told the kites are not made for petite, small women like me. I then searched for something safer and learned there’s a famous crater in Flagstaff, Arizona where a meteor crashed. I was told that it would be easier for me to master the glider while floating down and into the crater than off a cliff where high winds could prevent adequate control. But even then it’d be impossible to weigh it down with my slender 100 pounds.
Adrenaline junky, yes, death seeker, no! So I turned to parachuting, where the chute knew exactly what to do even when I didn’t. All with the hopes of ultimately free falling at some point. Getting out on the aircraft’s wing where I then pushed off into nothing but air, free falling for just a precious few seconds before the static line pulled the chute to its zenith, was a thrill I’ll never forget. I conquered my fears. I did something that was energizing and exciting and made me feel more alive than ever. In that moment I could succeed at anything. That’s what I took away each time I pushed the boundaries.
At a young age I believed I could overcome any obstacle, achieve any task I put my mind to. That doesn’t mean I encouraged my own daughter to do any of this. But growing up with these stories and a temperament similar to me, it was probably inevitable. In the beginning I joined her until she surpassed me by sky diving in a tandem jump at 10,000 feet and free falling until 3,000 feet. Later, she tied a rubber band to her feet and did a swan dive off a cliff in New Zealand. Ok, maybe it was a little better than a rubber band!
My fault? Maybe, it was clearly my example. In the genes? Who knows, but no other family member ever expressed a desire to join me. I do know my daughter is fearless. She’s never shied from doing whatever it took to find her own path and follow it. Or create a new one when none existed. After all these years I’ve finally realized that courage, true courage, doesn’t come from risking your life or demanding adrenaline highs from outlandish activities. True courage comes from facing our fears, and in spite of them moving forward. Isn’t that the real point? That we all have our summits to climb? It’s just different to each person.
We’ve all felt it- that adrenaline rush when embarking on new endeavors: The march down the aisle when we commit to our future spouse for life. When we see a positive pregnancy test and know our lives are changed forever. The kicking we feel when a new life is within. The overwhelming emotions when we hold our infant for the first time. The day we graduate or get a new job or move to a new city, get a divorce or change directions. . . Sometimes it’s just getting up in the morning when the day seems too overwhelming to face. I felt the same rush raising my daughter alone and seeing her grow into a magnificent woman. I got the same rush taking over my private medical practice in a divorce and going strong 26 years later. I got the same rush deciding to construct my own building 30 years after renting. Each night I look back at another day where I thrived, regardless of the chronic pain or daily struggles life threw at me- and I get a rush. I am an adrenaline junky who learned real highs come from everyday life and the choices that push us beyond our comfort zone and make us better people. I’ve never felt more alive than when I had to look inside and see who I really am or what I can really accomplish. That’s an adrenaline rush worth pursuing.