What the Athletes Told Me

Re: Extreme Sports by Marcia Clemmitt

For my report on “Extreme Sports” (April 3) I spoke with four rockclimbers, three kayakers, two backcountry skiers, two mountain climbers, two snowboarders, two skateboarders, a world-champion freestyle skydiver, an Ironman triathlete, and a trainer for mixed martial arts (sometimes called “ultimate fighting”).

Surprisingly, I found that among athletes themselves, the title “extreme” and designation “thrillseeker” aren’t as well accepted as you’d think. Most told me that, while they’ve had plenty adrenaline-pumping moments, their real pleasure comes from mastering the rush and conquering risks with the skills and composure they’ve developed through years of training.

Frank Farley, the Temple University psychologist who coined the term “Type T personality” for “thrillseekers,” has hung out with motorcycle daredevil Robbie Knievel and a bevy of climbers who’ve conquered the world’s highest peak, Mt. Everest, and participated in hot-air balloon races in Russia and China. “While an adrenaline rush is part of it, you can have an adrenaline rush having sex in your own bedroom,” Farley told me. What “Type Ts” really “thrive on is challenges, and they often believe they can control their own fate,” he said.

Which brings us to the avid TV-watcher of Extreme Sports. Watching so-called extreme sports events like the X Games and the Ultimate Fighting Championship from our armchairs, lots of us enjoy vicarious thrills. That’s a boon for advertisers, who use images of backflipping snowboarders and kayakers navigating Class 5 rapids to sell products from soda and energy drinks to antihistamines. Extreme sports images and tv programming are especially good for capturing advertisers’ highly sought-after “young male” demographic, who are the most likely among us to harbor pent-up desires for adrenaline-pumping thrills, marketing experts say.

-- Marcia Clemmitt

To read the Overview of  the report on Extreme Sports, click here.
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