If one man can do it, another
should be just as able. That's the
theory. The fact, however, is that
those who push the limits, especially
in extreme sports, seem to
have an altogether different take on
fear to the layman, they appear to
be quite fearless given that they leap
off cliffs, jump from planes and otherwise
seem to redefine the comfort
zone that most of us live our lives
Living with fear
India's four-time Winter Olympian
Shiva Keshavan rides a sled that has
him hurtling down an icy track at
speeds in excess of 150kph while lying
supine just inches from the ice. The
speed keeps increasing as most luge
tracks drop an average of 150 m over
a length of 1.5 km. By the end of the
run his world is one big blur.
"It's not that one does not feel
afraid. It's just that by repeatedly
experiencing the same thing over and
over, the adrenaline goes down while
the mind comes to grips with the actual
threat factor. Then, each time, the
fear stays but it seems to just heighten
the senses which allows you to
push yourself to another level," says
William Trubridge holds the world
record for the longest free dive that
had him plunge 95m deep in the
Atlantic Ocean off the Bahamas, without
fins or an air tank. It's a scary
thing to do since, at that point, the
amount of pressure on the human
body is 10 times the normal. He does
not deny being scared, but then he
has also learnt how to use this powerful
emotion as a tool in his pursuit
of the deeps.
"Fear can be used as a positive tool,
as it makes you prudent and methodical.
When we become over-confident
then we often allow greater risks."
Trubridge's state of fear, however,
also does not come in the way of his
dives: " It is important not to let it
affect the state of relaxation before
or during a deep dive. Any anxiety
or stress will increase the heart rate
and burn oxygen faster, cutting into
your breath hold time."
Most people hesitate before jumping
off a bridge for a bungee. Others
baulk at the very thought of going
out of an airplane to experience the
exhilaration of skydiving. And hardly
anyone picks the dangers of basejumping
that introduces the unpredictable
thermal and airflow fluctuations
that crop around solid structures.
Now, imagine jumping off a
6,604 m mountain.
It's been done. Heather Swan and
Glenn Singleman hold the world
record for the highest basejump off
Mt Meru in the Garhwal Himalaya.
The couple have no qualms in accepting
that they are afraid each time
they step out from that high.
"Yes, we do experience fear, the
fear of heights is a primeval instinct.
But all the adventure training we have
done in the past years has helped
build the strength of our rational
mind, and inhibit our fear system
(flight, fright and freeze)," they told
HT in an email interaction.
Regular exposure has trained
their minds: "We underwent tests at
the Brain Development Institute at
Westmead Hospital in Sydney to
understand our fear system. We
found that our base level of fear is
half that of the general population."
Singleman says that it is the fear
factor that puts a stop to many a leap
-- both physical and of the mind.
"Knowledge, experience and reason
work together to reduce fear. Fear
leads you to think things are impossible,
it's a paradigm, a system of
thinking that controls what we do.
The more we get in control of our
fears, the more we realise that we
can do things we usually fear we
He sums up just how one can
rationally get over the shakes: "The
need is to understand the real risk,
not the perceived risk."
Anybody can drive a car but driving
at 300 kph on a sinuous racetrack
is a wholly different ball game all
together. India's pioneer F1 driver
Narain Karthikeyan has been doing
that all his adult life. He's also had
some horrific crashes but still keeps
"It's a natural human reaction
to brake when one feels that the speed
is getting out of hand. However, the
body is an amazing mechanism
that adapts quickly once the
initial fear subsides and
sharpens the reflexes.
You can overcome fear when the
desire to perform is strong enough."
Finally, some amount of fear, he
says, is always a good thing.
"Afterall, it's a mechanism that's
rooted in our survival instinct."