I have been jarred this week by two stories (see below) about people killed during sports activities they chose for the challenge and exhilaration. The first was someone who went to my high school, though I never met him: Steve Posner was in a powered catamaran racing a friend in similar boat. They collided, and two people died. Then two balloonists crossing the Adriatic Sea (east of Italy) disappeared on September 29th, and the wreckage of their gondola was just located yesterday.

In November I read about NY City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s daughter being in yet another horse riding accident and fracturing her spine. I had seen her riding in Florida this year near Palm Beach. She has previously broken her back, her collarbone, two wrists and an ankle, and suffered at least three concussions. Yet she keeps on riding. Amazing.

We all take sports injuries in stride. We all know or have heard about athletes who have been scarred or paralyzed or brain damaged for life. This summer I saw a woman fall on her face on a hard surface tennis court and break her nose. Yet the highs of athletics compel most of us to keep on taking the risks. Is it the endorphins in the brain that drive us to take chances that can maim or kill us? Is it the thrill of the contest or the chase that propels us? The high of victory or personal achievement? Professionals may be doing it for the money, but that doesn’t explain why amateurs like myself keep pushing.

I played 4 1/2 hours of tennis Friday, then 2 hours of squash Sunday, then 3 1/2 hours of tennis today, Monday. After the first hour today, I was exhausted, couldn’t think clearly, knew I should stop. But we were in the middle of a set. I had served about 13 deuces. I was hurting. But I had to keep going. The perfect time to trip, tear a muscle, maybe even fall. But stopping was out of the question. I never felt that I was at risk of dying, though I know people who have seen their buddies drop dead on the court. And this is only tennis.

So imagine how much greater the danger is if you are base jumping or horse jumping, trampolining, climbing mountains, rock climbing, ski racing, etc. Yet there are millions of us who do it without a thought. Knowing the risks doesn’t stop us. When I jumped out of planes, I thought it would be fun. When another student jumped two feet during practice and broke his shoulder, I thought it was bad luck. When other students died jumping, I thought it was still safer than driving a car. I was only 21 then, and I am more cautious now. But taking physical risks is part of the excitement. Unfortunately, some of us die…

Now here are those stories:

MIAMI – Real estate tycoon Steven Posner has died in a high-speed boat crash near Miami that killed another man and left two other men injured, authorities said Tuesday. Posner’s 44-foot race boat and a similar 46-foot vessel crashed into each other about 1 p.m. Monday in clear weather. The Fish and Wildlife Commission said the two boats—each capable of speeds approaching 100 mph—appeared to be racing before colliding, according to witnesses.

Friends and family members said Posner loved fast boats and entertaining guests. Read more here .

ROME – The bodies of two American balloonists and their gondola were discovered in the net of an Italian fishing boat on Monday, two months after the champions disappeared while competing in a race over the Adriatic Sea during a fierce storm. Read more here .

SYRACUSE – Georgina Bloomberg, the horse-riding daughter of Mayor Bloomberg, was seriously hurt this weekend after falling during an equestrian jumping event in Syracuse. The 27-year-old suffered a concussion and fractured her spine when her saddle slipped and she fell off the horse she was riding, Radio City, on Friday night (November 5, 2010). “Despite the injury, she is resting comfortably. She’s going to have a full medical evaluation (Monday.) We’ll know more then,” her equestrian spokesman Kenneth Kraus told reporters.

Georgina, who was reportedly dressed in a witch outfit for the costumed ride at the Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournamen, initially got up after the accident, and initially refused medical attention. But she woke up in pain on Saturday, and was taken to the hospital. She has previously broken her back, her collarbone, two wrists and an ankle, and suffered at least three concussions. “The mayor, of course, is very concerned, like any father would be,” said mayoral spokesman Stu Loeser.

And of course this accident reminds me of the actor Christopher Reeves whose most famous role was Superman. Almost a decade after removing the cape once and for all, Reeve suffered a near-fatal horse riding accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Read more here .

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