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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.

Pushing to the Edge

So why is it that their last accomplishment is never good enough? Why do extreme athletes always need to push it to the next level, closer to the edge?

“Extreme athletes say that it’s the law of diminishing returns,” says Anderson. “Reaching the same goal over and over doesn’t bring the same amount of excitement as it did the first time, so they want to push the envelope and go for the next big goal.”

Take free diving, for example, explains Anderson. “People who free dive with no oxygen tank are always pushing deeper and deeper into the ocean with just one breath,” he says. “They’re never satisfied with their last dive.”

It’s the risk that is appealing, and the riskier, the better.

“The mentality is that people who are drawn to extreme sports are risk takers,” says Jenn Berman, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Beverly Hills, Calif., who was a member of the 1984 exhibition Olympic team in gymnastics. “It’s that they love to push themselves to the limit -- physically, emotionally, and in every way possible.”

There is always another goal to be set and reached, and the bar just keeps inching upward.

“Each time they have a success they want to push themselves farther. Any great athlete tends to do that, but this is especially true in extreme sports,” says Berman. “Once they accomplish something, they will start to lose the rush, so they have to push themselves harder and set the bar higher.”

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.”

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