2009-10-22 / Sam Bari

The latest on the extreme side of sports

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

The country is embracing the apex of the sporting season, when armchair quarterbacks and extreme couch potatoes are in their glory. Football season is in full swing, professional baseball is struggling through the playoffs and pro basketball players are staging warm-up games.

If that is not enough to keep the fan base happy, extreme sports has accelerated to new heights. Death-defying events designed to keep psychiatrists employed and daredevils challenged are more extreme than ever before. The alleged “athletes” who salivate over the prospect of an adrenaline rush line up to test their skills and experience the action.

Although columnists are discouraged from writing about religion, I make an exception when writing about this subject because it is not controversial. Most religions agree that at some point, we will be held accountable for the way we conducted our lives. Accountability is believed to happen after we expire and before we are allowed to enter the legendary Pearly Gates.

Since we need a measuring device of some kind to rate the level of extreme involved, we ask a simple question: How well would St. Peter or one of his colleagues receive an explanation of accidental demise while indulging in one of these extreme events?

If a race car driver were asked how he spent his life, he more than likely would say something like: “I spent my life driving a car in thousands of little circles in excess of 200 miles per hour until I made one itty-bitty mistake.” How well do you think that would be received?

That being said, I can’t help but wonder how many have been invited through the gates whose last words were, “Watch this!” Apparently, that is a common final statement made by athletes before participating in “extreme” sporting events.

An extreme sports athlete will do something like jump out of a perfectly good airplane with a surfboard strapped to his feet. He does this so he can surf on air for as much as a minute or so while hurtling toward the earth at a speed of approximately 80 miles per hour.

The surfboard provides a certain amount of wind resistance that slows jumpers from falling at speeds ranging from 120 to 140 mph. That’s how fast they would be falling if they jumped without the board.

In other words, if a jumper is in a “stable position,” that is, falling while facing the ground with arms and legs extended, he will fall at about 120 mph. If the jumper is in a “delta position” with his head facing down, legs straight and slightly parted with arms extended and at a slight angle to his body, he will fall faster, at approximately 140 mph.

If the jumper were tumbling head-over-heels with arms and legs flailing wildly while screaming “I’M GONNA DIIIIIEEEEEEEE!” at the top of his lungs like a normal person, he would hit the ground at somewhere between 130 and 135 mph. That is what would happen if he were too frightened, panicked and discombobulated to pull the ripcord at the appropriate time to open his parachute, which seems like a perfectly normal response to me.

CBS Television’s “60 Minutes” featured the latest extreme sport earlier this month. The people who participated are called “Bird Men.”

Throughout recorded history, mankind has been envious of our feathered friends. Many attempts have been made to fly like birds, and hundreds, if not thousands, have died trying.

Recently, a small group of Bird Men gathered in a beautiful valley in the middle of Norway’s tallest mountains, where they came closest to achieving birdlike status.

The Bird Men jumped off the highest cliffs in Europe wearing a special winged suit that is inflated by the wind. Once the wings are inflated, the Bird Man is propelled forward at speeds close to 150 mph. Gravity still rules however, and the flyer cannot fly up. They descend to the ground at a rate of one foot down for every two feet forward.

Nonetheless, the Bird Men have a much longer and more controlled flight than they would without the suit. The video alone was impressive to the extreme.

How would Saint Peter rate a Bird Man saying, “I was flying along just fine until this mountain got in the way and . . .”? I have no idea.

He might say, “You must be one of those people who lived in a system even we can’t understand.”

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