As a marketing manager for computer giant Hewlett-Packard, 40-year-old Nancy Burgess does pretty much what managers do. She returns calls, reads her mail and, little by little checks off items on her to-do list. Pretty mundane, right? Well, while Nancy may seem like your average young professional woman of the '90s, there is something that sets her apart. For behind her calm exterior...is an adrenalin warrior. Nancy is into extreme sports.
She describes her motivation, proclaiming, "This is what life is all about, getting out there, testing your limits, and figuring out what life is all about. It's spectacularly beautiful, which is part of why we do all of these things...and the other side is, you look within and you say, 'Okay, what are the risks? What am I trading off?' And yet you don't turn back. You say, 'I feed on this.'"
Feeding her need for the extreme has taken her to such exotic locales as a 3,000-foot waterfall in Venezuela.
Of the risks, Nancy says, "I continue to choose opportunities to feel the emotions, to feel the adrenalin. There have definitely been times when I questioned, you know, 'Should I be doing this? Should I back off? Am I pressing too far?'"
Confronting those fears may actually be what keeps people like Nancy going. Dr. Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University in Pennsylvania, calls people like Nancy "Type T" personalities: the thrill-seekers of society. Dr. Farley has a metaphor for "Type T" behavior: "We have handrails in our lives. Let's say handrails are traditions. Rules, regulations, laws. Some people pass on through life holding on handrails with both hands. Others let go."
While her recreational choices may be more dangerous than average, Nancy doesn't feel she is bent on self-destruction: "It is certainly not a death wish. You just want to live more and more. You find this place inside you and you may get this adrenaline rush and you want more of it. But it's more than that. It's also the family, the group of friends that you jump with. It's just phenomenal."
Dr. Farley explains "Type T" people from a psychological perspective, saying, "They like unpredictable things, novelty, change. They're independent-minded, self-confident. They control their fate. Energetic. Package that and you have the type attracted to extreme sports."
Nancy is an extremist who has found her thrill mate. Husband Mark Lichtle is making a career out of shooting video of jumps, specifically base jumps: leaps from cliffs, buildings, bridges, you name it.
Nancy and Mark even reenacted their wedding vows -- complete with a minister -- while plummeting to earth. Love was definitely in the air. Mark says, "We found that we're very compatible people. But we like taking it to the edge."
Like the fjords of Norway or a 1,400-hundred foot subterranean cave in Mexico. Of the latter challenge, Mark recalls, "We stood before this thing and we felt some emotions. And ome of us cried. I mean, grown men sat there and bowed before this thing and said, 'I'm not sure I can do this.' I made that jump on faith, that my eyes, my information on base was correct. I had the right equipment. And I did. It worked. But I'll tell you what. My body was so alive. And I screamed when I landed. I screamed for joy. I screamed for the release of emotions. I screamed for the conquering of it."
For Mark, skydiving has also become his work. And while that's not the case for Nancy, she says her risky avocation actually makes her a more effective manager: "I'll think about something I have to do that's really difficult. And I'll think, 'well, wait a minute. I can jump out of a plane. I can jump off of a bridge, off a cliff. How hard can this be?'"