Extreme athlete Dean Potter recently passed away on a BASE jump alongside fellow wingsuiter Graham Hunt. As an avid climber, I’ve followed him pretty extensively as he’s prominently featured in several climbing videos dating way back to the late 90’s. His awesome moonwalk video was only released a few weeks ago, and he topped that with a record Half Dome ascent/descent even more recently. I viewed Dean Potter mostly as a climber, and didn’t know he engaged in the sweat-inducing, proximity-style wingsuiting that Jeb Corliss is more known for.
Obviously, I’m a bit bummed about his death. To me, he was a living legend – maybe the last great multi-disciplinary extreme sports athlete of his kind – always setting records, always trying something new. The last similar person I can think of is Dan Osman, though he seemed to be a more of a daredevil.
I wouldn’t consider Dean Potter a daredevil in the typical energy-drink sense, or an adrenaline junkie, or a person who intentionally flirted with death. He seemed to take calculated approaches to his more extreme activities, backed off when things got hairy, and seemed pretty careful about his equipment. Because of this, I honestly thought he was invincible.
Plenty of detractors have come out of the woodwork regarding his lifestyle, though it’s exactly his lifestyle that I want to write about. Not the BASE jumping. Not the free-soloing. Not the highlining (high slacklining). Simply put, he spent his life doing activities he really loved. That’s more than most of us can say, myself included. Maybe 43 is a young age for Dean to die at, but honestly, I think his time on earth was spent awesomely well.
Simply put, he lived a life on his own terms. He lived the classic dirtbag lifestyle for most of his youth, getting by on basics and living in caves at one point to keep doing what he loved. Eventually, his accomplishments gained some attention, and he gathered some sponsors along the way. The compromise of going corporate was that his feats required more public exposure, including making videos and towing along a video crew along the way to keep the sponsors on board.
Truth be told, there are many other extreme athletes out there doing what they want to be doing – they’re just not public about it – Dean’s wingsuit partner, Graham Hunt, for example. I’ve done several climbs around the world where I would spot a lone wolf climber free-soloing (ropeless climbing) on the walls. They’re not climbing for anybody but themselves. And they’re living the lifestyle – the one of their own choosing.
There’s a lot of people out there living on their own terms, and we should be no different. It doesn’t have to involve an extreme activity-laden lifestyle like Dean – he’s definitely one of a kind, and we’re all different. It could be physical, like competing in an Ironman competition or finishing your first triathlon. It could be mental, like becoming a bridge champion like my mom. It could quasi-corporate, like being a Steve Jobs-like entrepreneur that changes the world. It could be social, like contributing your time and expertise helping those in need.
Whatever it is, if most of your days are spent completing tasks not in a state of happiness or not working towards that purposeful life, then either you need to achieve a zen state of mind or correct course and go for it. I like both, but the latter is probably better suited for most people.
As for today, I’m going to set my slackline five feet higher off the ground, pushing it a bit out of my comfort zone, and realize it’s all in my head as I cross the chasm. RIP Dean Potter.
The thing that I’m getting out of pushing my limits is that I turn impossible to possible. I turn something I haven’t done to something I’m doing. But the possibilities of what we’re capable of doing, if we believe in it, is the most compelling thing I can think of.
– Dean Potter