What Drives Extreme Athletes to Risk Life and Death?

for full article click What Drives Extreme Athletes to Risk Life and Death?

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A new Sundance film called “The Summit” explores the psychology behind what happened on the deadliest day on K2, known as the world’s most dangerous mountain. On August 1, 2008, 25 climbers set out to summit K2—11 people died in the pursuit to stand on the mountaintop. Why? What drives extreme athletes and mountain climbers to risk life and death? Can athletes push the limits of what is humanly possible without succumbing to what the filmmakers describe as “summit fever,” which is an urge to take life-threatening risks to summit even if it means trying to get back down the mountain and find your way home will kill you.

Are you a novelty seeker or someone who has a strong “Need for Achievement” (n-Ach)personality? I am both. The need for achievement personality trait is characterized by an enduring and consistent concern with setting and meeting high standards of achievement. This need is influenced by internal drive for action (intrinsic motivation), and the pressure exerted by the expectations of others (extrinsic motivation).

How much of the drive to summit K2 comes from an intrinsic drive to achieve personal best, and how much of it is driven by a lust for fame and glory? It’s always going to be a tightrope walk between intrinsic and extrinsic drives when setting out to achieve something extraordinary. Each of us must navigate what motivates us and try to maintain a healthy balance between hubris and humility.

As an ultra-endurance athlete, I got sucked into the ‘excelsior vortex’ of wanting to push myself ever higher and farther, even at the risk of killing myself. Pushing my mind and body to the absolute human limit was a rush and became like a drug for me. Everything else in my life fell to the sidelines. For over a decade of my life, I obsessively pushed the envelope to break new ground by doing things like winning 3-triple Ironman triathlons, running 135-miles through Death Valley in July and breaking a Guinness Book of World Records by running 154-miles in 24 hours on a treadmill at Kiehl’s in Manhattan.

“The Bigger the Dream. The Bigger the Risks”


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