Reprinted from my guest blog on the Dundurn Press blog:

Canyoneering involves roped-up, wetsuited adventurers descending waterfalls and sculpted canyons. It’s a sport so heart-stopping and photogenic that when I saw a spread of it in a magazine, I declared, “This is the topic of my next adventure novel!”

Tracker’s Canyon is my seventeenth young-adult adventure novel, and I still get excited when I discover a new so-called “extreme sport.” It gives me a chance to research it in-depth and meet its athletes, maybe even try it out. Why do all my novels involve outdoor adventure and sports?

  1. .Because I misspent my youth doing outdoor sports, especially whitewater kayaking and rafting.
  2.  Because it encourages teens (especially boys) to read.
  3.  Hopefully it also encourages kids to get involved with sports and fitness.
  4.  Finally, my novels also promote the safety aspect within these sports (to a degree!).

Participation in extreme sports is growing because everyday urban life is too safe and bland. Or, as sports science and phys-ed instructor Ron Watters has said: “The right to risk is unalienable. It makes our society healthier and more vibrant.”

Of course, there are those who believe that extreme-sports participants are adrenalin-addicted lunatics with a death wish. But research shows that extreme sports promote humility and courage, and personal transformations that spill over to other areas of life in positive ways. Yes, the brain releases dopamine following extreme experiences. This creates feelings of optimism and happiness. Couldn’t we all use more of that?

Extreme sports, which attract those with goals and a competitive personality, also promote the all-important skill of maintaining composure under pressure.

“Sometimes in a really big crisis you feel…just dead calm,” says Steph Davis, a climber/mountaineer.

It also hones survival instincts: “The sixth sense is like a muscle. It gets stronger with use,” says Maryann Karinch, a skydiver, scuba diver, kayaker and personal trainer.

Perhaps most important: physical challenges are also mental challenges. That means they teach us to think positively, make leaps of faith, appreciate life and pursue personal development. Or, in German philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche’s words: “When you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

“Our research has shown people who engage in extreme sports are anything but irresponsible risk-takers with a death wish,” say academics Eric Brymer (Leeds Beckett University, UK ) and Robert Schweitzer (Queens University of Technology, Australia). “They are highly trained individuals with a deep knowledge of themselves, the activity and the environment, who do it to have an experience that is life-enhancing and life-changing… Far from the traditional risk-focused assumptions, extreme sports participation facilitates more positive psychological experiences and express human values such as humility, harmony, creativity, spirituality, and a vital sense of self that enriches everyday life.”

But let’s give the last word to skydiver Jim McCormick: “The greatest rewards in life go to the risk takers.”

Tracker’s Canyon protagonist Tristan would be totally down with that!