I’ve been going back and forth with this subject ever since I started writing about extreme sports. Why do extreme athletes choose extreme sports? Is it an absurd love for danger that drives them? Is it the hormonal rush? Is it both or something entirely different to what science and research has taught us until now?
We’ve all seen and read about the “adrenaline junkies“, some referring to it as if the most obnoxious label. Truth is that scientists across the world have spent a significant amount of time in studying brain activity during extreme sports and their findings are more or less known to all. Extreme sports trigger our “fight or flight” mechanism (our physiological reaction to stress and danger, during which our senses are extremely heightened). Heart rate increases, pupils dilate, our breathing changes too. All these are adrenaline generated reactions. Scientists, therefore, have very conveniently come to the conclusion that the large amounts of adrenaline produced during extreme sports, is what the extreme sports athletes are after.
Is that all, though? More recent researches have linked the secretion of adrenaline with the release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters in the body, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin; all inducing a sense of euphoria. These chemicals are also performance enhancers. They make you stronger, faster, quicker. They increase focus. They make you better in everything you do. Even if this is as risky as BASE-jumping for example.
Again, I ask, is that all? I do not doubt and I have no reason to doubt all the scientific findings. But for some reason, I do raise the question if that’s why extreme athletes choose extreme sports. The, naturally induced, neurochemicals mentioned above are highly associated with motivation, creativity and learning enhancement. This is perfectly explained in Steven Kotler’s book “The Rise of Superman”. In his book, Kotler attempts to explain “Flow”. He manages to explain the hows, the whys and the whens of the flow state. He explains how the flow state is the most addictive state of all and how each person/athlete who experiences the state even once, then seeks to exceed his limits to feel it again. All very reasonable, all scientifically proven.
But, is that all?
There is a truth which is not written in the books. And this is the truth of the athletes. Their personal testimonies and experiences, their point of view. The examples of extreme sports athletes who dispute the scientific findings and widely held views about how adrenaline fuels the passion for extreme sports are notably increasing. These same athletes, describe the experience as a meditative one. A state of complete freedom and of trust to the universe and to the soul’s journey. A spiritual experience that’s carefully designed rather than an addiction done impulsively.
Whichever side of things you choose to believe, one thing is sure. Extreme sports athletes choose extreme sports not out of craziness, but to actually find retreat from the craziness of reality. Same as meditation.