Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fearless Felix has nothing on Daring Doug

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Like most guys, I think I have a lot in common with Felix Baumgartner.

If you've spent the last few days hiding in a drainpipe, "Fearless Felix" is the Austrian extreme athlete who jumped into the record books last weekend when he stepped out of a pressurized capsule at the edge of space, then plunged 39 kilometres in about nine minutes, reaching a top speed of 1,342 kilometres per hour, making him the first skydiver to fall faster than the speed of sound.

According to a host of news reports, Felix's record-setting jump from a capsule carried into the stratosphere by a 55-storey ultra-thin helium balloon was watched by about 7.3 million breathless viewers around the globe.

In contrast, later that same night, something on the order of 10.9 million viewers, including me, tuned in to watch the launch of Season 3 of AMC's zombie apocalypse drama The Walking Dead. Which says something profound about the human condition; I'm just not sure what.

The big question is: Why did Felix do it? The answer is: Because he's an idiot. I say that based on the fact he stepped out of a (bad word) pressurized capsule at the edge of space and plunged 39 kilometres at speeds reaching Mach 1.24 before finally hitting the ground nine minutes later.

Another reason I suspect Felix put his life on the line is because he is a guy, and there's nothing guys enjoy more than engaging in monumentally stupid, reckless activities, many of which are sponsored by the fine folks at Red Bull.

I know this because, like Fearless Felix, I am also an idiot. I am not trying to say I'd be willing to jump out of a perfectly good pressurized capsule 39 kilometres above the Earth. But I can tell you, with no word of a lie, a lot of guys just like me would be willing to carefully lean out a capsule window, glance down at the Earth, then bravely attempt to spit on someone or something directly beneath us.

That is just the way we modern guys roll. I'll wager a show featuring random non-daredevil guys spitting on things from the edge of space would draw an even larger number of TV and Internet viewers.

Ground control: "OK, people, we are good to go."

Me in space: "HOOOOOORRKK!"

Ground control (nine minutes later): "Ewwwwww!"

It is also possible, I suppose, Felix felt driven to escape the surly bonds of Earth because of the fact his parents cruelly named him Felix, a name typically given to the president of the audio-visual club in high school, and he spent the better part of his teenage years having his head dunked in the toilet by bigger kids.

But that is sheer speculation. The point I'm trying to make is I and a lot of other guys I know share a special bond with Fearless Felix because, at some point in our lives, we have tried to do something so inherently stupid it could have removed us from the gene pool.

For me, that moment came when I was 11 years old and living in West Vancouver. On the lazy summer day I tried to reach for the stars, my father had unwisely left a large ladder leaning against the side of our cosy two-storey home.

There I was, a chunky, dull, 11-year-old kid, in the backyard, searching for something stupid to do, when, after glancing at the ladder, I also spotted our patio furniture, specifically the patio umbrella, out of the corner of my eye.

As you have no doubt already deduced, minutes later, Daring Doug was standing on top of the roof, sweating like Mike Tyson at a Grade 3 spelling bee and clutching the canary-yellow patio umbrella in a white-knuckled death grip.

Why did I want to jump off the roof of a house holding a patio umbrella? Why does an 11-year-old kid do anything? Because I had all the common sense God gave a cinder block.

I suppose, in my mind, I imagined wafting to the ground like a fall leaf gently drifting down from a tree. In reality, I demonstrated Newton's first law of gravity -- a kid jumping off a roof with only a patio umbrella will plummet like a (very bad word) stone.

The fact I am writing these words now implies I did not, in fact, die. I would have been dead under normal conditions but, fortunately, beneath our lawn at the time was a gurgling, burbling septic tank that had transformed the yard into a spongy swamp with a thin layer of grass on top.

When I hit the ground -- SPLAT! -- I survived only because I was partially submerged in a soft, life-saving mass of grass-covered sewage. Which I think just proves my point: I have a great deal in common with Fearless Felix.

He walked away from a death-defying skydive. And, years earlier, I did exactly the same thing. Unfortunately, the patio umbrella was never the same.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 17, 2012 A2

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