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Kids & Extreme Sports; Dean Potter Dies

May 19th, 2015

Extreme athlete, Dean Potter, died over the weekend. Photo credit: Filmfest St. Anton via Wikimedia Commons

On the same day The New York Times Magazine published a story titled, “Is It Wrong To Let Children Do Extreme Sports?” … one of the world’s most notable extreme athletes, Dean Potter, died.

Mr. Potter was about as extreme as extreme athletes come. He died attempting a wing suit jump in Yosemite National Park with a friend, Graham Hunt, who also died. Mr. Potter was 43-years old. This video explains a little bit about what he did.

Mr. Potter pioneered a kind of hybrid sport that combined two incredibly dangerous activities: free solo-ing (rock climbing to high heights without any ropes) and BASE jumping (when you jump from a fixed structure and then release a parachute or use a wing suit). Mr. Potter called it free-basing.

His death comes at a time when we’re trying to figure out how much risk it’s okay to take in sports.

Even in mainstream sports like football, hockey and soccer, there are an alarming number of concussions and injuries.

Partly it’s because so many more kids are playing organized sports at a younger age than ever before, partly because we tend to believe the safety equipment protects us more than it often does, and partly because we want to emulate our sports heroes at a time when a child’s body may not have the physical strength, co-ordination, or life experience necessary to understand the consequences. This was a personal experience for us.

Apply that to more extreme sports, like motocross or bull riding ( in this story HTE covered a while back ), and the risks are even greater. Some of these sports have very little room for mistake. And in some the regulations haven’t caught up with the data about the kinds and amounts of injuries — the ones to the head being among the worst because when it happens repeatedly your brain may not always heal back to way it was before.

On the other hand, it’s far from a free-for-all. You may have also noticed there’s a huge effort to keep kids safe in everyday life… some might say too safe . Some of it is safety, but some of it’s just how quick people can be to sue. The result? Some towns have even starting banning sledding (!)

The New York Times Magazine article: “Even as childhood in America seems to become more and more circumscribed in the name of safety — as schools limit recess activities and remove threatening playground equipment, as critics inveigh against parents who let their children roam without supervision — kids participate in extreme sports at ever-younger ages. What were once simple pastimes, like riding bicycles and skateboards, have evolved into thrill-seeking pursuits and intense competitions whose goals include new tricks and surpassing what’s thought to be possible.”

Mr. Potter made a conscious choice to live his life this way and he seemed to understand the dangers despite how his life ended. And even though most of us would never do what he did, he did make people think about how some risk can lead to a more full life.  The question is how much risk?

It’s largely a personal choice, but one that for kids, HTE believes, should come with a responsible and trusted adult’s guidance.

Mr. Potter happened to be in the news a few months ago because his sponsor, Clif Bar, decided they didn’t want to sponsor him anymore. They were uncomfortable with the amount of risk he was taking and didn’t want to be seen encouraging it or being associated with it, especially in case something bad happened … which sadly in this case it did.

How much risk do you think is okay?

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