Steph Davis is an accomplished wingsuiter, BASE jumper, and free solo climber with a resume as impressive as her history-making feats. She’s the first American woman to climb Fitzroy in Patagonia, the second in the world to free climb El Capitan in one day and one one of, if not the only, one to consistently surmount the most difficult 5.11+ grade slopes. On a regular basis, Davis, like so many other adrenalists of her impressive ilk, risks life and limb. Does she ever get scared?
In an interview with adventure clothier, prAna, Davis offers insight into what allows the world’s most extreme athletes to do what they do. “I’m scared all the time,” she says. Still, she manages to compartmentalize, to perform under the most tense conditions imaginable. Last-minute apprehensions be damned, she goes confidently forth in the direction of the commitment she’s made: “When you go, you go. You can’t go back to the edge.”
For Davis, fear is dichotomous–comprised of both good and bad parts. “Bad fear,” she says is “the artificial, self-induced pressure, the thing that was making you perform badly even though you shouldn’t.” It’s the fear of falling, the fear of failure. This is the fear that Davis says must be overcome because, as she says, “that could be what will kill you.”
Then, there’s good fear, what Davis defines to be a healthy respect for the danger inherent in extreme activities. This fear, she says, is “for survival.” Climbing thousands of feet into the air with no rope or harness, for instance, should not be taken lightly. In that case, a little “good” fear is a good thing.
Good fear, bad fear; none of it means anything if the athlete in question isn’t able to internalize these definitions and truly extricate dangerous thought processes from their psyche. Skill aside, novel success is about an adrenalist’s oneness with their mental state – high level of mental functionality to accompany a high level of physical functionality. As Davis says, “It’s all about controlling your brain, and putting what you want in [there].”