Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Most Dangerous Sport!

All sports have some element of danger. Some more than others. Some sports suffer from being assessed as being more dangerous than they actually are, while others seem fairly safe, but secretly hide a dark side that is not apparent to the casual observer.

Allow me to do a rundown on activities or sports of which I have participated, and give a brief statement as to it's danger level, on my own personal anecdotal level. This is in no way based on any scientific method. Only my own personal experience.

Motorcycles- Only one serious accident on the dirt bike and was able to limp away.

Motorcycles- Only one accident on the road bike. Minor abrasions.

Skateboarding- Sue and I quit before we suffered any broken bones.

Racquetball- Only minor bruising, and occasional blood letting.

Volleyball- Sprained ankles.

Running- Plantar Faciitis.

Hang Gliding- No injuries.

Ultralight Aircraft Flight- No injuries.

Sailing- No injuries.

Bicycling- No accidents while riding on the road.

Mountain Biking- Many cuts and abrasions, and injury to neck and back.

Rock Climbing- No injuries.

Snow Skiing- No injuries.

Soccer- Sprained ankles.

Volleyball- Sprained ankles.

To be fair, some of the above activities of which I partook were only for a limited amount of time. Skateboarding was a short lived activity, thus I was lucky to not suffer any major injuries. It is my opinion, that skateboarding is probably more dangerous than many of the other activities. Other activities, I participated over a very prolonged period, so the fact that I had injuries, such as with mountain biking does not necessarily mean it is inordinately dangerous. I have flown hang gliders for over 13 years without injury, thus this activity has been a relatively safe activity for me.

Now the purpose of this little discourse is to give my opinion as to what has been the most dangerous activity or sport for me. This determination is based on a rough evaluation of the amount of time I participated in each activity, and how many injuries or how close I came to disaster in the respective activities.

And the winner is!

Well actually, none of the above... I have withheld mentioning the activity that has been the most dangerous to me. I wanted you to first form your own opinion as to which of the above are the most dangerous, and then surprise you with the activity that has been the most dangerous for me.

Drumroll please!

And the winner in the category of the most dangerous activity for Mike...


For some of you this may be a surprise, while others (some fishermen) may agree with my assessment.

I never suffered an injury while fishing, but I had 3 incidents that would qualify as a "scared the hell out of me" type experience. And these three incidents occurred with only a very limited amount of time participating in the pastime. So in retrospect, the risk to reward ratio seemed to be fairly high.

Now before I detail the "scared the hell out of me" events, I will first want to express to the fishing fanatics, that I will be the first to admit that in each of these incidents, that they were primarily my fault. No matter what we do, we must take responsibility for our own actions, and be properly versed in how to conduct the activity in a safe manner.

Event #1
I am invited to join a friend in a Bass Fishing Tournament. The weather was predicted to have a possibility for strong storms. Storms in Arkansas can build rapidly. So of course we go fishing.

Now in tournament situations, one will often tolerate higher levels of risk than normal.... So we are seeing the sky getting very dark, but my buddy is reassuring that if we hear thunder we will head for the shore. Well the first thunder was accompanied by a lightening bolt that was very close. You know the simultaneous flash and the and loud report of thunder. Could not have even counted to "One Alligator" between the loud report and the very nearby lightening bolt. My buddy was leaping for the drivers seat and firing up the engine in haste and we headed for the shore. We rode out the storm in the thick woods.

Event #2
I cannot remember why I thought it would be a good idea to take my little 12 foot John Boat to the local lake in the middle of an Arkansas December. So I am alone on the lake but have dressed appropriately to tolerate the 40 degree weather. My life preserver is nearby, and I am motoring out with my little electric trolling motor. It happened very suddenly.... The little boat suddenly riding up on a submerged tree stump. The little flat bottom boat started to pitch hard to the left, and I had only a split second to make a decision. What went through my mind was that the boat was going to capsize. My split decision was to hopefully save the boat from capsizing by leaping out of the boat.

My first response when I came up out of the water was to be pleased to see that the boat had not capsized. My second response was, to be amazed at how cold the water was... The boat was perched up in a precarious position on the stump, and I felt great urgency in getting the boat off of the stump and trying to get back in the boat without dumping it over. I am not a strong swimmer and the bulk of the heavy water-soaked coat was becoming a concern.

I was able to pull the boat off the stump pretty easily. I knew that if I was to climb in the boat it would have to be from the stern. The little electric motor was preventing me from being able to access the stern on the narrow little boat. I worked on removing the motor from the back of the boat and pitching it into the boat. Now I had room to hopefully pull myself up into the boat over the stern. With much relief, I am able to pull myself into the boat without tipping the tiny craft. I hook the little motor back up and it is a long, slow and very cold trip back to shore.

Event #3
I save the best for last! My favorite mode of fishing was to join up with a buddy and fish our local creeks in flotation tubes. A short explanation to those who are not aware of this method. Take an automobile inner tube, insert it into a canvas pouch. After inflating the tube you have a seat within the center of the tube. When deployed in the water you float about belly deep in the water, and propel yourself through the water very slowly through the water by kicking your legs. Great device for fishing the slow and shallow creeks during the summer. Now set all this aside, as my good buddy felt that on this dry summer day, we would not need the tubes and simply could wade the creek. So, off we go to wade about a 2 mile stretch of creek.

The fishing was going very well. We were about half way to our destination, and were filling up our stringers with large mouth bass. We would wade a pool of water, then walk through shallow shoals to the next pool. I wade into the next pool, and I am casting a top water spinner lure to one side of the pool and my buddy is casting to the other. This particular pool is larger than the others and it is getting pretty deep as we proceed. So I have water up to my armpits, while I continue to cast, hoping for that next hit from another largemouth and then suddenly I am under water. I had stepped off a ledge, took a dunk and quickly paddled and kicked to get my head back above water. Now to find a foothold.

As I mentioned before, I am not a great swimmer and now I am swimming (dog paddling) with one hand as my right hand was holding on to the fishing pole. Not willing to let loose of the rod, I started to swim towards the bank, hoping to find a foothold. But each time I kicked, the stringer of fish hanging from my belt would wrap around my leg. Very rapidly the weight of the fish around my leg now limited me to swimming with one hand and one leg.

Okay... one would think at this moment, that common sense would kick in and that I would toss the rod. I did not. Or maybe call out to my buddy for some assistance. I did not. Now I am having short periods where I am not able to keep my head above water. I would go under, find the bottom and kick myself up to the surface again. Again, one would think that I would call for assistance, or at least lose the pol so that I would have two hands with which to swim. I did not.

So what the heck is going on here? Well I am sad to say that it is simply the male ego that had full control of my decision making process. Now you must know this.... that my good fishing buddy and I are very competitive. We compete at fishing, (who caught the biggest or most fish), we compete at racquetball, and we compete on our mountain bikes. If my buddy beats me in racquetball, I have to hear about it for weeks. If I loose my fishing pole, he will have that as fodder to make fun of me for months. If I actually have to have him help me, I will never live that one down. At every family gathering he would make sure to tell about the time he had to save me from drowning. So the pitiful reality was this.... I was willing to risk my life rather than risk being the butt of a joke.

It was about my third time to go under. I came up and I was really starting to struggle. My stroke with my one good arm and leg was panicked and barely getting me any forward motion, when my foot struck a rock. And as quickly as I had gone under, I had found a footing.

I stood on solid ground with my head above water, catching my breath. I turned around to see where my buddy was, and his back was to me as he casually casted his lure towards the opposite bank. Apparently he was unaware of my desperate situation I was in just seconds earlier.

I untangle the stringer of fish from my leg, checked my lure, and begin casting.... Just as if nothing had happened. I knew though that I had come very close to putting myself in a very desperate position. All because of my ego.

Many years passed without me telling anyone about this incident. It was probably over a decade before I confessed to my wife and my buddy of what had transpired that day. To this day I carry that day as a reminder of how wicked our egos can be. For my wife to have lost her husband, my children their father, and my mother her son would have been a terrible senseless waste.

We get together now and reflect back and can laugh at some of the crazy things we have done. Yes, I hang glide, race mountain bikes, and more. But I no longer fish.... Some just are not cut out for extreme sports.

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