Danger is all around you. The street that runs in front of your house can be dangerous. Water can pose a threat. Extreme heat and cold can put your health in jeopardy. Thing is, most people know how to manage and avoid those dangers each day. But a small-but-committed group embraces risk and potential peril, welcoming it into their lives in the form of a game.
What seems ludicrous to the outsider makes complete sense to the participants. The winners are sometimes rewarded with a tangible, valuable item -- anything from cash to a trophy they can put on a shelf. For other players, the reward is in the thrill of the experience itself. But there is a very real downside.
The risk of participating in any of these five contests ranges from being burned, battered, drown or rushed to an emergency room with ruptured internal organs. Good times, huh? You'd think someone -- a person, government or organization -- would step in and say "enough is enough!" Sometimes they do. Two of the five highlighted events have recently been banned. But just as soon as one adrenaline-inducing contest is shut down another emerges to take its place. Adults have free will, and where there's a will ... well, you know how the story goes.
You can view this list as a warning, an invitation or a vicarious and scary thrill. But make no mistake: None of these "sports" will keep you healthy. Quite the opposite -- doctor's visits are quite likely in your future. And that's in a best-case scenario.
Could anyone go for a steam? How about guaranteed burns and suffocation? The World Sauna Championships are far more intense than a little sweating with the guys following a racquetball match. In fact, we can't even say "the World Sauna Championships are" because, as of 2010, they ceased to exist [source: Vallis]. But more on that later.
The contest held in Finland was one of attrition. Competitors sat in a sauna with temperatures up to 230 degrees Fahrenheit (110 degrees Celsius.) That's hot enough to cause blistering within minutes and make your throat feel, as one contestant described it, "as if someone had stuck a tiki torch down it" [source: Vallis]. Water was dumped on the smoldering sauna rocks periodically to make the conditions even more miserable. One by one, contestants would decide they couldn't take it anymore and bolt for the door. Typically a winner would be declared in six to 10 minutes.
In 2010, The World Sauna Championships came to a disastrous end when a dual between finalists Vladimir Ladyzhensky and Timo Kaukonen ended with Ladyzhensky dead and Kaukonen hospitalized. The event hasn't been held since [source: Vallis].
Free diving is a sport that's quickly grown in popularity in recent years. Diving in beautiful water without oxygen tanks -- that's the free part -- can be an exhilarating experience. Some free divers compete to spear fish while others simply engage in a contest to see who can stay under the longest. Still others participate to see how deep they can go. Enter the Vertical Blue competition.
Vertical Blue draws the best free divers in the world to a serene, clear blue underwater cavern in the Bahamas. One by one, the divers descend down a rope that extends more than 600 feet (182.9 meters) below. They have to fight against the impulse to breath, they risk blacking out under the strain, and they even have to be prodded to inhale and exhale once they return to the surface -- such is the state of delirium they find themselves in once they're again in their natural environment [source: Kennon].
But, perhaps more than anything, they have to resist the overwhelming anxiety that can sweep over the human body once it's hundreds of feet below the surface and desperate for oxygen. Passing out is common at the competition. Most participants are familiar with the unpleasant experience of losing consciousness and being pulled from the water. Most also know of someone -- a fellow diver -- who never regained consciousness after pushing their limits in the deep blue [sources: Kennon; Cochrane; Nipps and Tomalin].
If you've ever overindulged at a Thanksgiving dinner, you understand, on some level, the truth that the human stomach can only stretch so much. Sure, the stomach's capacity can grow over years, which allows an ever increasing amount of calories to turn into fat. But if enormous quantities of food are introduced over days, weeks or months, you may just wind up with a dangerously distended belly. Such is the case with the Dinka Tribe of Sudan [source: World News Inc.].
Each year, the young men of the tribe engage in an approximately four-month eating contest. The competitors eat as much as possible and avoid movement so they don't burn calories. At the end of the period of eating they prop themselves up on their withered and weak legs and use canes to slowly make their way to a central area to be judged by the community for their girth and size. It's not unheard of for a contestant's stomach to rupture, resulting in death. Competitors say they don't fear such an outcome because it's an honor to die in such a way [source: World News Inc.].
Morning radio shows are known for zany contests aimed at drawing attention and ratings. The crazier and funnier, the better. But in 2009, a Sacramento radio competition went terribly wrong when the organizers failed to recognize the danger of a seemingly harmless activity: drinking water.
The "Hold Your Wee for a Wii" event drew participants who wanted to win a Wii video game console. Each contestant had to drink an 8-ounce (226.8-gram) bottle of water within two minutes. Ten minutes later, they had to drink another. And, as the name implies, the players could not use the restroom.
What the disc jockeys failed to realize, or at least acknowledge, is that water intoxication can lead to an imbalance of electrolytes resulting in sickness and death. And that's exactly what happened. A 28-year-old mother of three withdrew from the game when her head began to hurt. She was later found dead. An autopsy revealed the cause to be water intoxication. Ten employees of the radio station, including the DJs, were fired [source: CBS/AP].
Imagine finding yourself hanging from a sheer rock wall so high above the ground that people below look like little more than a speck. And, oh yeah, the only things holding you in place on that mountainside are your own hands and feet. No gear, no ropes, just you and the rock. There isn't a more dangerous form of climbing than free soloing.
Free soloing is a contest between the climber, the elements and the climber's own fear. A misstep or a moment of panic can end it all -- and frequently does. In 1981, legendary free-soloer John Bachar issued a challenge from Yosemite. He would pay $10,000 to anyone who could do what he did for a day. No one took him up on the contest. In 2009, Bachar would die during a fall in Mammoth Lakes. He was 52 [source: Thomas].
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- CBS/AP. "Ten Fired After Radio Contest Tragedy." July 8, 2009. (Dec. 30, 2011) http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-207_162-2365259.html
- Cochrane, Kira. "Take a Deep Breath." The Guardian. April 21, 2009. (Jan. 8, 2012) http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/apr/22/sara-cambell-free-diving-champion
- Intelligence2. "The Dangers of Free Solo Climbing." (Jan. 4, 2011) http://www.intelligencesquared.com/talks/the-dangers-of-free-solo-climbing
- Kennon, Tammy. "Free divers are Testing the Bounds of Human Endurance." New York Times. April 16, 2011. (Jan. 8, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/sports/17dive.html?pagewanted=all
- Nipps, Emily and Terry Tomalin. "Deadly Risks Lurk Behind the Thrill of Free Diving." Tampa Bay Times. (Jan. 3, 2011) http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/deadly-risks-lurk-behind-the-thrill-of-free-diving/1042851
- Thomas, Pete. "John Bachar Dies at 52." Los Angeles Times. July 8, 2009. (Jan. 8, 2012) http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-john-bachar8-2009jul08,0,7890954.story
- Vallis, Mary. "Photos: Danger of Sauna Contest Catches Up With Russian in Finland." National Post. Aug. 8, 2010. (Jan. 5, 2012) http://news.nationalpost.com/2010/08/08/photos-danger-of-sauna-competition-catches-up-with-russian-wrestler-in-finland/
- World News Inc. "Dinka Fat Men of Sudan." (Jan. 9, 2012) http://wn.com/Dinka_fat_men_of_Sudan
- World Photography Organisation. "Fat Man Competition." May 2010. (Dec. 30, 2011) http://www.worldphoto.org/images/image/89483/?FromImageGalleryID=5867