Why do you BASE jump? I get this question more than any other. I think the answers to this question are innumerable and ever-changing, probably for all of us, but one that I continually add to the list is that I BASE jump to conquer myself (a notion made famous by the first man up Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary). This statement might seem general, so to be specific, what I’m talking about is the ability to have full control over your emotional and physical reactions. To keep your head clear and hands steady when the world is coming down around you.
Up till now I had no bar for this until one was exemplified by the tragic magnificence of Rami Kajala. For those who are unfamiliar with this incident, Rami was BASE jumping Bixby Bridge—a sea cliff bridge on the coast of California featured in countless car commercials—along with fellow jumper Katie Connell.
The conditions for the jump were high risk due to inclement weather and overhead high surf. Katie jumped first and while attempting to make a safe landing on the diminishing beach landed in the outflowing river. She was immediately entangled with her parachute and, as she fought to clear herself, was swept off her feet by a rising tidal wave, which ripped her out into the rocky cove.
As this was happening Rami leaped off the bridge to come help. He made a hard landing on the sand and, without hesitation, stripped off his rig and ran into the surf to save her. Neither of them made it back to shore. Fully clothed and fighting high surf in windy conditions to attempt to rescue Katie, Rami drowned alongside her.
Looking back, anyone can say that the odds were heavily against him. Some may even say Rami shouldn’t have attempted the rescue (among whom were the fast water rescue team who refused to attempt a rescue until the surf subsided). But whether Rami should have gone is irrelevant to my point, which is that he was ABLE to go. Un-paralyzed by fear and undeterred by the slim odds he was going to make it back to shore, he was able to dive in headfirst to attempt to save someone he loved.
At one time or another, most of us have shied away from situations where we may have perceived potential harm. Some make excuses when emotions are on the line for things as simple as asking someone out, taking a job interview, or getting on a stage. However, some avoid chances of physical risk like leading a rock climb, going for a tandem skydive, or even stand-up paddle boarding.
We spend too much time wishing we could crest the hurdles of self-doubt, irrational fear, and locked limbs to make the first step toward perceived danger. Rami, facing down actual danger in what I would estimate as a 90% chance of failure, with full knowledge of this fact, still had enough self command to run into the surf. Whatever you may think of his decision, his ability to do so is beautiful and worthy of the highest admiration. When you can stand on the edge of life, un-intimidated by the consequences of your actions, anything is possible. And in my mind, you have attained a level of human excellence worthy of the life we’ve been blessed with.
I’m not advocating that we all seek out dangerous situations. I’m also not advocating that we chase the slim odds when life and limb or even our emotions are on the line. I’m merely hoping that one day I have the wisdom to distinguish between perceived and actual risk, the courage to act when I value the goal and the ability to live up to my full potential the way Rami has done. I am advocating that we all have the ability to be this bold if we can find the desire to progress and the self-advocacy to believe in our ability to change for the better. I am advocating that Rami’s ability to act as he did is worthy of emulation. And it is a bar that has been set for me to understand whether or not I have conquered myself.