Last year, I asked triathletes “Why Do You *Really* Do Triathlon?”. There’s dozens and dozens of very interesting responses to that post, and I think you’d be surprised at the answers, which are everything from…
“I want to look good naked.”
“I wasn’t good as sports growing up.”
“I’m addicted to the endorphin high.“
…and much more.
As I wrote about in “Look, Feel and Perform Like An Ancient Spartan Warrior – How To Become An Absolute Physical Beast“, I personally am venturing into other realms this year as a way to 1) challenge my body and mind; 2) redefine my ceiling of what I truly think I am capable of; 3) satisfy my thirst for the next big physical high; 4) prove to myself and others that I am capable of amazing feats of physical performance and 5) quench my drive for competition and beating others.
But today’s guest post from Mark Tullius (pictured above), Ivy League graduate, father, husband, MMA fighter and author of the upcoming book “Unlocking The Cage”, asks an important question: is all this really worth the risk? Let’s see what Mark has to say…
Endurance Sports, MMA and Extreme Exercise – Are They Worth the Risks?
MMA athletes, endurance athletes and extreme exercisers alike are often asked the same question: Is it really worth it? Look at what you put yourself through. The diet, the time, all the sacrifice and unnecessary pain. Why do it, why push yourself? Is it worth it?
If the athlete is still competing, they have obviously already answered that question, but friends and family want to make sure they take everything into consideration. What about all the injuries that are bound to happen?
The calluses, broken fingers, jammed toes, wrenched necks, cuts, scrapes, bloody noses. The sprained ankles, shin splints, tweaked knees, lower back pain, torn cartilage, Achilles’ tendon and rotator cuff tears. The tendonitis, the arthritis, and all the pain you’ll suffer to pursue your passion.
How can that be worth it?
Both groups of athletes will shrug off all the above. There’s no guarantee any of those things will happen to them, and, if it does, they’re tough—not some little cry baby who can’t handle it. They’re machines: they get up and walk it off; there’s no need for rest. They’ll say they aren’t just competing in a sport; it’s a lifestyle, and they’ll gladly accept the downside.
Non-athletes must shake their head in disbelief at this, thinking how childish it is to risk harming oneself for a game. MMA fighters get this a lot, especially when they’re working their way through the amateur career, not even getting paid to get punched in the face. With MMA, there is a real danger of suffering serious damage.
Anderson Silva’s leg snapping in half is an image that comes to mind.
Ronda Rousey breaking Miesha Tate’s arm.
Fighters losing parts of their ears.
But it can get worse than that. There have been a couple deaths from cerebral hemorrhaging, and, recently, a Brazilian fighter died before weigh-ins after a brutal weight cut. These instances are very rare and not enough to make anyone reconsider their career choice, but there’s a hidden danger that might not rear its head for years after the damage is done.
All fighters experience head trauma, it’s an undeniable part of the game, but, hopefully, only a small percentage will develop dementia and other problems. It does happen, though, and fighters need to be aware of it.
As a former fighter who had speech problems and many concussions over the years, I’m very interested in the recent research and keep my fingers crossed I don’t wind up with any issues. When I’m interviewing fighters for my study, I am always looking for signs of brain damage, but rarely see any. I just hope that continues and these men and women can walk away without any serious issues.
But I was surprised to learn that endurance athletes face a risk even more severe than MMA athletes.
It seems so counterintuitive, but endurance athletes, the people we think would be in the absolute best shape, may be causing significant damage to their heart and running the risk of sudden death. Studies show a marathon can raise your risk of a heart attack sevenfold. Endurance running can cause heart muscle scarring, the harder and more intense the training, the worse the results. The same goes for increasing calcified plaque in the arteries and other heart problems.
So, after considering all these risks on the downside and not much of an upside, at least financially, why do it?
Why is it worth the risk?
I’ve asked nearly 400 fighters that question, and, while every answer is different, there are many similar themes, most of which I’m sure endurance athletes would understand.
There’s nothing else that makes these athletes feel so alive. It’s not just the endorphins bringing them back, it’s the accomplishment.
It has improved them as people.
They continually step outside their comfort zone, test themselves, make themselves stronger of both body and mind. They’re smashing goals and becoming better every day. They will not be complacent.
Everything else is easy after you’ve stepped into the cage, run your first marathon, or conquered a triathlon.
You’ve done something that not everyone else can do.
This process changes people and seems to make them happier, more well-rounded. I’ve interviewed fighters who’ve thrown away law degrees, family businesses, and lucrative careers. The majority of fighters I’ve interviewed are intelligent men and women who could be doing anything they want, but this is the path they have chosen.
I get it.
They’re living the life on their terms, making the most of it. Even if there’s a heavy price for them to pay at the end of it all, they’d most likely do it all again.
Everyone needs to decide for themselves whether or not it’s worth the risk. Be aware of the dangers and train smart. Do the research and mitigate the damage, prevent and repair the ongoing abuse. Live each day like there’s no tomorrow, but do it intelligently to increase the chances of having a longer and healthier life.
Mark Tullius is a graduate of Brown University with a degree in sociology. He is also a former MMA fighter who has traveled across the country to 100 MMA gyms to take an in-depth look at the sport, the fighters, and why the fighters compete. His book chronicling these experiences, Unlocking the Cage is set for release during the summer of 2014.
What do you think? Do you agree with Mark? What extreme things do you do and why do YOU do them? Leave your thoughts below.