THERE’S NO LIMITS
by Dan Batten November, 2002
Snowboarding, white-water rafting, wing-walking. Extreme sports provide the ultimate adrenaline rush. Dan Batten talks to disabled thrillseekers whose daring knows no bounds.
Extreme sports are usually regarded as the domain of fearless, superfit athletic types. So you won’t find a disabled person taking part, will you?
Well, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Across the globe, disabled people are testing their nerve by walking on planes, diving off snow-covered cliffs and trying lots of other terrifying things.
So, how can you join them? The best way to find what’s out there is the Internet. You’ll find many sites dedicated to extreme sports, telling you how and where you can take part. Some are run by disabled daredevils, such as Exeter’s Dean “Deano” Dunbar’s www.extremedreams.co.uk
Dean, who is blind, got into extreme sports about five years ago when he volunteered to do a fundraising tandem skydive for a local school for blind children. “I got hooked on the adrenaline buzz from it”, says Dean, 33. He has since tried crane bungee jumping, paragliding, and even hurling himself out of a human catapult. He’s also keen on water and has heen white-water rafting in Nepal and scuba diving.
His latest hair-raising effort, a wing walk on an aeroplane in flight , took place in September. But Dean’s main passion is mountainboarding, a cross between skate and snowboarding, which uses a kite to catch gusts of wind. “A lot of people use their boards to ride down grassy hills, sometimes jumping over rocks and ramps,” says Dean. But he chooses to board on snow and sand. “When the wind is strong enough, a few of us can be found doing ridiculous speeds along our local beaches!
“I have someone close in front of me on their board who I follow or someone will shout out directions to me,” he says. Although this works most of the time, Dean can end up “a bit battered and bruised”. But this shouldn’t deter you. Dean thinks anyone who wants to try an extreme sport can and should, but they must be honest about their needs. “Any decent company that provides the opportunity to take part in extreme sports should be able to make adjustments to help you take part,” he says.
For some , the inspiration comes not from the net but from the TV. From teh first time he saw Jacques Cousteau diving on his television show, Michael McKeller, aka “Extreme Mike”, 36, knew he wanted to take up scuba diving. ” I wanted to see the world he experienced,” says Mike from Georgia, America.
But this wasn’t going to be easy as Mike, who has spinal muscular atrophy, had a small obstacle to overcome – a fear of water. “I had a lot of fear,, but I fought through it, and got my diver’s cerificate in 1995,” he says. He still has problems “handling himself” in tough conditions, and always has at least two “dive buddies” with him to make sure he is safe.
Before he attempts a new sport, Mike draws up a list of questions that help him decide whether it is right for him, and encourages everyone to do the same. “I do a thorough evaluation of the risks and how they can be avoided. I then ensure that I have a fun and safe time.”
Like Dean, Mike has a website documenting his exploits. But he has gone one step further. He is planning a video series, which he wants to be broadcast by local television in the States. He has made a pilot episode, which shows him preparing for a tandem sky dive from 13,500 feet, travelling through the sky at 120 miles an hour. In the pipeline are shows on land sailing, hang gliding, driving a racing car, rock climbing and more. Mike came up with the idea for the show to inspire others to confront their fears and try something new. “If I can do it, then the viewer can too,” he says.
Someone else who accepts no limits, and whose motto is “dive into life head first, kick butt and ask questions later”, is 26-year-old snowboarder Lucas Grossi from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Lucas was a keen skateboarder from an early age, with his house boasting th only half pipe skateboarding ramp in the neighbourhood. He lost his left leg below the knee in a car crash when he was 12, and had it replaced with a prosthetic limb, but he kept the desire to keep on boarding. He thinks nothing of snowboarding down steep avalanche chutes and riding off cliffs.
Alongside his regular prosthesis, Lucas uses specialist equipment supplied to him by two companies, Otto Bock Health Care and Northern Care O and P). “I use a knee brace that goes over my thigh and the socket of my fake leg, as well as a waist belt and a “v” strap that holds my leg on while I’m riding,” he says.
He’s also been helped on his way by the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which has given him training grants.
All this help has seen Lucas become the adaptive snowboard representative for the United States of America Snowboard Association. He competes in their adaptive snowboard division, but has also crossed over into competition with non-disabled boarders. “It’s great fun when I don’t tell them about my leg.”
If you’re suddenly thinking this is a male dominated world, think again. Lucy Glynn, 24, who has just joined DN as a reporter, got the bug for indoor wall climbing in January this year when a friend insisted that she took up a “new hobbty for the New Year”. Lucy, who has cystic fibrosis (CF), is glad she tagged along, as she now climbs every week.
Climbing an indoor wall involves following a series of different coloured grips laid out in routes of varying difficulty, while a partner on the ground secures you with a support cable. Outdoor walls offer no ground support, and your weight is borne instead on tiny metal tacks you fix to the wall yourself.
Luckily, Lucy took to the wall pretty quickly, and managed to reach her summit after a few sessions. She then started taking harder paths to the top. As well as the enjoyment she gets from climbing, there are also health benefits. “I’m meant to exercise to help with my CF,and the climbing action is useful, as it makes sure my lungs are opened.”
She also finds that she feels generally stronger since she started climbing, and that it works well in conjuncion with the exercises and medication she takes for CF. She has skied, too, which also benefitted her breathing, and modestly confessed to being “not bad”.
Lucy’s next quest is to climb a real rock face. Although she is a bit scared at the thought, her attitude will see her through. “If you don’t try, you’ll never know whether you can do somthing. Be brave!”
A great motto for any disabled person thinking about taking the plunge into extreme sports.
The British Disabled Water Ski Association gives water-skiing instruction to disabled people. Tel: 01784 483064, website: www.bdwsa.org.uk