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Extreme Sports: What's the Appeal?

Experts explain why some people feel the need to push themselves to the edge in extreme sports.

From the Mouth of an Ironman

Experts say it's about goals, competition, respect, adrenaline, and always reaching for the next level. Rick Hall, a registered dietitian and two-time Ironman athlete, explains how right they are.

“Competing in the Ironman is solely for me,” says Hall. “It’s the ability to say I’ve done it. It’s pushing my body to its absolute limits. I’m competitive in nature in life and business but when it comes to competing as an athlete at the Ironman level, it’s about self-competition and how well I can do and what my personal best can be.”

While Hall explains that during the event he often asks himself why he would put himself through such agony; the answer becomes clear when the end is in sight.

”It’s a long-endurance event, and several times during the day, and when you’re way out in the middle of nowhere and you’re away from spectators, you think, ‘Why am I doing this?’” says Hall. “But you get to the finish line, and it answers those questions all at once. It’s an absolute adrenaline rush, and it’s very emotional.”

At the end of the Ironman, there are thousands of people screaming for competitors to put one foot in front of the other and cross the line.

“It’s one of the few sports where there’s no booing -- everyone wants you to succeed and they’re screaming for you because you’ve just accomplished a huge feat,” says Hall. “When I cross the finish line, I’m ready to sign up for the next one. For me, that’s a big rush, and it lasts for several weeks. ”

Hall -- who completed his second Ironman in better time (by one hour) than his first -- is already training for No. 3 in 2007.

”There’s a statistic out there that says less than half of a percent of the world’s population can complete a regular marathon,” says Hall. “Now consider adding a 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike [ride] to that, and you can imagine that there aren’t many people who can say they can do it, or have done it.”

Watching the Extreme

Most of us are content to play the role of screaming fan at the end of an Ironman, standing by while elite athletes like Hall cross the finish line. Why is it that we enjoy watching others endure the blood, sweat, and tears of extreme competition?

“Why do we like to watch NASCAR? Boxing?” asks Berman. “It’s human nature to have curiosity about the outcome of such extreme sports and how people can defy death.”

Will they live, will they die? Will they succeed, will they fail? It certainly brings a new meaning to the reality TV trend.

“It’s different for everyone, but it’s exciting to watch these people compete,” says Anderson. “They are testing themselves to an extreme measure, and watching them push themselves while you say, ‘I could never do that,’ is fascinating.”

So why doesn’t a mere mortal feel the urge to go the extreme?

“While we all enjoy the feeling you get from participating in something extreme, extreme athletes just gravitate toward the activities that create these emotions,” says Anderson.

The science behind the rush really comes down to the finish line, the top of the mountain, the next big wave -- the finale.

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