The Extremity Games resemble the iconic extreme sports festival, the X Games, but with one vital difference. It is “adaptive,” designed for athletes with amputations and spinal cord injuries. Founded in 2006, the Extremity Games feature a range of competitions and instructional clinics in skateboarding, speed rock climbing, wakeboarding, sit-boarding, kayaking and cross country mountain biking and exhibitions of MMA and motocross. To make all of this extreme action possible, a crew of pretty exceptional athletes is needed.
“They have the most amazing stories that would literally make you cringe,” Extremity Games motocross racer Chris Ridgway told the LA Times. “But at the same time they’re not saying, ‘woe is me, I’m down in the dumps.’ They work hard and they still go through a lot of pain, but they’re doing what they want to do. It’s the whole atmosphere around the games that I really love.”
To help you get a sense of all the adrenaline, skill and passion involved in this incredible event, here is a breakdown of five of the sports involved.
In the Extremity Games’ street course skateboarding contest, competitors perform technical tricks with an emphasis on originality and style. As in Parkour, good skateboarding depends on phenomenal balance and courage. During the first round, each skateboarder embarks on two non-consecutive one-minute rolls. Then, the three competitors who most wow the judges advance and compete in a quick-fire, 90-second, deciding performance.
Helmets are mandatory. Other gear is voluntary.
Originally called “sidewalk surfing,” skateboarding was born in the middle of the 20th century, spawned by California surfers keen to keep rolling when the waves were tame. The first skateboarders rode wooden boxes or boards with roller skate wheels screwed to the base. Those boxes evolved into planks that gradually became the miniature marvels of engineering we know today.
The motocross, or cross-country motorcycling, portion of the Extremity Games, takes place on a rolling outdoor course that unfolds over 80-acres of natural terrain. It is broken out into two divisions: AMP (i.e. amputee) and PARA (i.e. paraplegic and quadriplegic).
Jim Wazny, amputee racer and Motocross Director for the Extremity Games, who was crippled in a crash in 2000, has not lost his willpower to race. “I lost my leg in that crash. I did not lose my competitive spirit,” he says.
Originally, in an apparent nod to its fast-paced, all-terrain nature, motocross was called “scrambling.” The first known scrambling race happened in Camberley, England in 1924. Taking time to gain traction, motocross arrived in America in 1966 when Swedish champion Torsten Hallman aka Mr. Motocross, displayed his talent at a California “movie ranch.”
Since then, the sport has transpired in a range of inclement weather conditions. The muddier, the better.
Speed rock climbing
Speed rock climbing is exactly what it sounds like: racing the clock up a rock. At the Extremity Games, athletes tackle an indoor mountain climbing wall, jumping from peg to peg.
In speed climbing, the routes have to be reasonably easy to allow for the pace that makes great viewing. Check out the widely posted viral clip of speed rock climbing pioneer, the late Dan Osman, covering over 400 feet without a rope in under 5 minutes.
Still, imagine the drive and agility you need to climb a rock face at lightning speed with a prosthetic limb. At the Extremity Games, each high-speed adaptive climber gets two stabs at reaching the top of the 30-feet high rock wall at top speed.
The three fastest climbers in each division advance to the last round. There, they apply their agility to another, tougher route.
Wakeboarding – a high-octane offshoot of surfing – means riding a buoyant board while being propelled by a powerboat. As you glide at high speed over the waves, you may boost your chances with the judges by busting some stunts.
Last year, adaptive athlete Sean Reyngoudt shone in the Extremity Games wakeboarding contest. Reyngoudt, who also pro-kiteboards, excelled thanks to his ability to spin, flip and twist his body in the air while switching the handlebar from his right hand to his left behind his back.
About a decade ago, Reyngoudt fell off a forklift and lost his left leg just below the knee. Before, Reyngoudt had played football, baseball, soccer and ran track for his high school team. Instead of quitting sports, he made the decision to adapt.
Now, Reyngoudt says he is hooked on adaptive sports. “My goals are to help inspire other people and show them that there’s nothing that can slow them down,” he says in this video.
Cross-country (XC) Mountain Biking
The formula for the Extremity Games XC mountain biking contest is simple, involving one endurance race with the number of laps dictated by the race director. Riders usually cover around 2 miles, and the first rider over the line wins.
Cross-country cycling is the most popular mountain biking discipline. It has the highest participation on both recreational and competitive levels. In a reflection of its status, the muddy rural sport is the only mountain biking variety practiced at the Summer Olympics.
XC mountain biking stems from the antics of Montana-based Buffalo Soldiers, who rode single speed bikes tweaked for long distance travel over rough terrain, laden with supplies.
Today’s XC riders just wear “brain buckets” rather than the body armour sported by downhill riders because, though more injury-prone than road cyclists, cross-country daredevils have less severe crashes. Cross-country bicycles are some of the lightest in mountain biking, sometimes just 7 kilos (15lbs), which means nimble climbs and rapid downhill plummets.