These are real people on real ramps, performing outrageous and life-threatening stunts. Their actions go against all natural human instincts, which are put in place as a survival mechanism and for good reason.
Pushing themselves to extremes – some come out bruised and broken – these performers prove what humans are truly capable of, and it’s often beyond what is imagined. This is not to say that extreme sport athletes are without fear, but rather that their goal to overcome a challenge outweighs the apprehension they might feel. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it well: “As soon as there is life there is danger.” So why not take the risk?
Still, not everyone is as brave as the athletes of the Nitro Circus, which is why the audience’s pleasure is derived purely from observing the stunts. The experience is no less enthralling, and seeing the show live is a whole new experience from seeing it on television.
Though all the stunts are equally breathtaking, one mentionable character is Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham. The youngster, who suffers from Spina Bifida, has been restricted to a wheelchair since the age of three, but has never seen the wheelchair as a negative. While watching his brother BMX at a skate park one day, Fotheringham decided to drop into a half pipe. He fell, got up and tried again. Today, he stuns audiences around the world by performing a front flip and sometimes even back flips in his wheelchair.
In a pre-screened video to the stunt, Fotheringham failed to land and fell flat on his backside. He jokes about the experience: “I guess I’m going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.”
For the other athletes, there is less to laugh about as the danger is real and tangible. Live performances are interspersed with videos from shows across the world, where the desired stunt is not achieved, resulting in broken bones and some athletes knocked unconscious and put out of business up to a year.
What’s great about a show of this nature is that even if the athlete doesn’t achieve his landing, the audience is no less impressed. There’s still a sense of appreciation for the attempt. Fellow athletes run to cheer each other on, as they come wheeling down the landing pad and ram into an oversized air cushion.
Researchers Erik Brymer and Lindsay Oades did an interview study of 15 sports participants in 2009, with the results indicating that humility and courage develop quickly when participating in activities that involve a real chance of death. Their main finding was that extreme sport athletes relate their extreme experiences to positive personal transformations that spill over to other areas in life.
This show’s highlights included Ryan Williams, a pro scooter rider, as well as the FMX (Freestlye Motorcross) riders, who had one rider perform a trick before challenging the next rider into replicating the same trick during a back flip.