I’ve spent the past few New Year’s Eves watching guys jump over stuff and writing about it. To put it simply.
It started with FMXer Robbie Maddison long-jumping his dirt bike and, the next year, jumping it onto a replica of the Arch de Triumph in Vegas. Also in Vegas, rally driver Rhys Millen backflipped a truck–almost successfully–after breaking his back training for the same jump the year before. Last year, Travis Pastrana set a world distance record in a car by jumping from the Long Beach pier onto a barge floating in the bay.
This year, snowmobiler Levi LaVallee was supposed to perform a similar jump, live on ESPN, during Red Bull: New Year, No Limits. He planned to set a world record for distance jumped on a snowmobile, and the jump was to take place in San Diego. But it never happened.
A couple weeks before New Year’s Eve, LaVallee crashed during testing. Earlier that day, he smashed the previous world record of 301 feet by 60 feet. But then, during his first attempt under the lights, he crashed. He spent two days in the hospital, unconscious. His lung collapsed; the other was punctured. He broke ribs. He has multiple fractures in his pelvis. He won’t be back on the sled for at least three months. And he considers himself lucky.
Still, LaVallee says it was all worth it. He set out to break the record, and he did that. But he signed up to perform the jump in front of thousands of people–millions, if you include the TV audience–after seeing how much attention and notoriety the event brought to Maddison and Pastrana. And not being able to do so is a big loss. But he still says he would do it all over again.
His positivity in the face of such adversity is amazing, and something I wish I could bottle. But I’m not convinced he would reveal the “maybe it wasn’t worth it” side of this story to me, a member of the media, or to his fans. He says hearing he wouldn’t be able to perform on NYE or compete at the X Games was depressing and hard to deal with at first. But that’s as revealing as he gets. Listening to him talk about spending NYE at home in Minnesota with his girlfriend, watching movies and maneuvering around his house with a walker, I can’t help but believe he, too, questions whether these stunts are worth the price athletes like himself pay to attempt them, simply for the entertainment of a television audience and a paycheck.
ESPN filled the space left by the cancellation of the event with a show counting down the minutes to The Year of the Quarterback, a year-long celebration of the most storied position in sports. So no loss to the worldwide leader. But I’m not so sure the same is true for LaVallee. His season is finished. He won’t be able to compete at the Winter X Games, or race during 2011. His body took a beating, and now his wallet will, too. Still, if the event returns next year, I don’t think there will be shortage of guys standing in line waiting to fill Levi’s shoes.