Lose the Parachute, People

About a week ago, I reported on ESPN.com that Travis Pastrana went down to Puerto Rico and jumped out of a plane at 12,500 feet … without wearing a parachute. I wrote a straight news story—I didn’t editorialize, didn’t offer my take on the jump. I simply reported the facts.

PastranaIn the days since posting that story, I’ve received several e-mails from people wanting to discuss the insanity of performing that stunt. The most common belief: Travis Pastrana has lost his mind. And if he keeps it up, he’s not going to be around much longer. What a shame.

I however, have a different opinion.

I do believe this stunt signifies a change in Pastrana’s outlook on life. Maybe he’s matured, maybe he’s become so overconfident in his own abilities that he’s begun to transfer his unflappable belief in himself to other folks. All of his previous stunts required Pastrana to believe in his own abilities and take his life into his own hands. With this stunt, he placed his life into the hands of two men he had known for less than a week. Yet he had complete confidence in their abilities to save him. That shows a different side of Pastrana. But I do not believe he has lost his ability to make rational decisions based on a risk vs. reward analysis. Nor do I believe he has lost his mind.

I’ve thought a lot about this. And then, yesterday morning, his jump popped back into my mind. At about 9:30 a.m., on the way to work, I jaywalked. I have to admit, it wasn’t my first time. Also, I once jumped down onto the subway tracks to save my cell phone and I have driven a car while talking on one. In retrospect, I did all of these activities with little thought as to consequence. I did not stop, weigh the risk vs. the reward and then make an intelligent, well-informed decision. And let’s be honest. People have died doing all three of those things.

Does that mean I was willing to die for the sake of saving a few seconds instead of walking to the intersection to cross the street? Was a cell phone so irreplacable that death was a better option than a visit to the Cingular store to replace it? (Well, if you’ve ever been to the Cingular store, you know that’s a tough call.) Am I so busy that I couldn’t wait until arriving at my destination to return a few calls? Obviously not.

We all do stupid things every day that could get us killed. Sometimes, they’re not even stupid. This morning, an elderly woman, an author, was found dead in her Upper East Side apartment. A fire broke out in her bedroom, and firefighters found her still curled up in her bed. There’s nothing more mundane, nothing seemingly more safe, than slipping into your PJs and snuggling up in bed. And she died doing just that.

Sure, Pastrana takes risks. But he carefully analyzes those risks and takes every possible precaution to minimize them. Who’s to say dying in your bed after 80 years of tedium is any better than dying while skydiving after 24 years spent having the time of your life?

Certainly not me.

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