Extreme sports are an individualist business. They usually revolve less around beating other people and more around doing your own thing – raising your own level of performance. The enemy is your own desire to slack, even quit.
Still, even extreme sports enthusiasts stage comebacks, rallying against dramatic physical adversity instead of the abstraction of an unflattering, demoralising scoreline. Here come three stories of adventurers who came back from supremely frightening or painful experiences by dint of raw courage, stoicism and maybe a smidgeon of luck.
Every year the death toll on Mount Everest rises, and for every 10 mountaineers who reach the top, one won’t. The other week, four climbers didn’t make it down from the summit amid a traffic jam of over 200 people scrambling to conquer the world’s highest peak as the weather amped up.
On May 26 1998, after three grueling months climbing on the peak, budding adventurer Bear Grylls entered The Guinness Book of Records as one of Everest’s youngest ever summiteers and returned alive. He was 23.
The ascent took Grylls over 90 days of volatile weather, restricted sleep and oxygen starvation deep inside the “death zone” (above 26,000 feet). On the way down from his first reconnaissance climb, Grylls almost died in a crevasse at 19,000 feet. The ice cracked and the ground vanished beneath him. He was knocked unconscious and came to swinging on the end of his rope. Set to finish the job and, well, become Bear Grylls, intrepid veteran explorer, he jarred into consciousness and finished the adventure.
Stroke survivor Charles Wannop recently entered Australia’s National Capital Rally not expecting to complete the six stages standing between him and the finish. Finding he had won second place in the novice category one week short of his 50th birthday was, then, a big plus, which Wannop warranted.
Three years ago the adventurer from Australia’s capital, Canberra, suffered a severe stroke with a 60-percent death rate. ”I was working as a computer consultant, I was writing out a couple of emails and my hand kept on falling off the keyboard,” Wannop told the Canberra Times. He went to stand up but could not.
After proving to be in the minority, he underwent an agonisingly slow recovery that took him back to the sport that captivates him and the rigors of everyday life. Only 20 percent of survivors manage to live unassisted – “another minority group Wannop has managed to become a member of,” the Canberra Times noted.
In the extreme team race, the 2000 Borneo Eco-Challenge, adventure athlete Isaac Wilson disturbed a wasp’s nest.
“He started screaming, waving his arms around like a madman and running down the trail inside this huge cloud of irate wasps until he finally escaped them. He was stung about twenty times. It was terribly painful, but the stinging was only the beginning. Once the venom kicked in, Isaac began this blood-curdling screaming that I will never forget,” writes fellow adventurer, Robyn Benincasa, in her recent book, How Winning Works.
“’It feels like my brain is going to explode,’” Wilson wailed. In the regular world, he would have been on his way to the emergency room, but for three hours he never slowed down. He just kept screaming, choosing to walk in agony rather than sit in agony.
“He was going to be in agony no matter what, so why not win a race while he was at it? And we did,” Benincasa writes.