Extreme sports are out of control

Risky sports and violent play are causing more and more serious and life-altering injuries.

by Courtney Johnson

Minnesota is no stranger to intense, nail-biting winter sports. Extreme sports, such as freestyle skiing or what I like to call âÄúhybrid sportsâÄù like downhill speed skating are edgier and more intense versions of the sports that I grew up watching as a kid. While I do not have the kind of athletic ability nor the drive to partake in these rigorous sports, this is becoming an overwhelmingly popular activity for athletes who want to take their skills, and adrenaline rushes, to the next level.  
Shortly before the semester began, Minnesota got a taste of extreme sporting with a downhill speed skating course in St. Paul. This 1,300-foot course rounded up thousands of spectators,  all watching the thrill-seeking athletes compete in an adrenaline-pumping spectacular.
Adrenaline junkies love the euphoria that these intense sports offer. The rush that they get when their body senses the stressful environment releases endorphins to mitigate pain and enhance performance  âÄî perfect for an extreme athlete. The endorphins dopamine and norepinephrine that are released allow athletes to conquer their fear and in some cases go beyond what their body is normally capable of doing. Unfortunately, this sometimes has traumatic consequences.
Sarah Burke, 29, passed away last week because of a head injury that was caused in a freestyle skiing accident earlier in January. Sarah was no stranger to freestyle skiing: She was a four-time Winter X Games champion but had a history of struggling with this particular type of halfpipe, resulting in a similar head injury in 2009.  As a professional athlete, she knew what she was doing and had been trained over time to know how to handle the courses. But she âÄî like everybody else âÄî had a limit.
The problem with thrill-seeking athletes such as Burke is that they need risk in order to get the adrenaline rush that allows them to feel that they can conquer the course.  Similar to drug addicts, as they become more acquainted with the drug, they need more of it to get the high that they enjoy. As athletes become more experienced, they need more exposure to adrenaline pulses; bigger risks are needed to get that same sort of adrenaline high.
In these cases, athletes put themselves into potentially life-threatening situations and oftentimes underestimate their limitations. As a result, many life-altering and life-threatening injuries occur.
But not all of these injuries have to be related to extreme sports. A little closer to home are the injuries of Jack Jablonski and Jenna Privette, two Minnesota high school hockey players; both have spinal cord injuries suffered during the course of their games. In the hopes of enforcing safer game play, the Minnesota State High School League  has changed the penalty for the kind of rough play that Jablonski and Privette endured. But healthier game conditions alone will not solve the problem.
 These high school sports players must also be trained to handle the rush of endorphins at game time. The adrenaline is what causes their extreme competitiveness during the game. Since younger athletes are less experienced, it is harder for these players to control the flow of adrenaline. This uncontrolled level of competitive game play results in life-altering injuries as well. Extreme sporting creates an invigorating new take on sports that we have experienced before. Whether it is a contact sport or not, risks are always involved. But athletes, coaches and parents need to educate each other on the risks. Rules and regulations must be obeyed and limitations must be understood if these fun and exhilarating sports are to remain as entertainment.