Athletes on the Edge 06 – Rolling Stone
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Athletes on the Edge 06

They’re wildly talented, dedicated, a bit crazy — and nearly naked. Meet five extreme jocks who are helping redefine professional sports

Shaun White, 2006 Winter Olympic Games

Shaun White shows off his gold medal at the SoHo Grand Hotel after returning from the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, February 15th, 2006.

David Handschuh/NY Daily News Archive/Getty

SHAUN WHITE
Skateboarder/Snowboarder
2005 X Games silver medalist, skateboarding; 2006 Winter Olympics gold medalist, snowboarding
Since Turin, Italy, things just haven’t been the same in Shaun White’s Carlsbad, California, neighborhood. “Girls will come by and, like, chalk on the driveway, ‘Take me to the prom!”‘ the nineteen-year-old Olympic star reports. “I get mail from tons of fans that don’t even write any address, they just write, ‘Shaun White, Olympic Gold Medalist, California,’ and it’ll show up at my house somehow.” Things are equally strange away from home, where jamming with Slash on Black Sabbath songs gives way to an Easter-dinner invitation from Dubya and advice from Al Gore on Joni Mitchell downloads. But while White is reveling in the randomness, he is on a quiet mission: conquering the sport of skateboarding. For all his unquestioned dominance on snow and pavement, the Flying Tomato is skating’s most dangerous sleeper. Every spring, it still takes a month for him to get comfortable on his board again. “I’ll go to the skate park at the YMCA and at first I’m horrible and I get heckled by little kids,” he confesses. His goal at this year’s X Games: to land an unprecedented 1080 (three full revolutions). But White knows full well that ramps are harder than snow: When he was ten, he crashed and broke his foot and his arm and fractured his skull. “Afterward I walked into my elementary school classroom and my teacher started crying,” White recalls. “It turned out it was picture day; I had a cast on my arm and these gigantic black eyes.” Now that some of the post-Olympic hoopla has calmed down, White is finding out that some things will never change: “Even neighbors that hung up banners about me during the games still come up to me and say, ‘Um, can you not skate around here?”‘

TAO BERMAN
White-Water Kayaker
2002 Pre World champion; three-time world record holder, including highest waterfall drop What do you do when you’ve tackled nature’s most extreme challenges? You bring in a helicopter. That’s what Berman, one of the world’s greatest white-water kayakers, did. For the cable show Stunt Junkies, the twenty-seven-year-old launched himself from a helicopter hovering above a series of three waterfalls -including a final sixty-five-footer. “It was like a small hurricane,” says Berman of the propeller wash, “and if I had put my paddle up at all, it could have caught in the rotors, which would have brought the whole helicopter down.” But cheating death — and talking about it — is all in a day’s work for the self-promoting Berman. “The difference between a perfect line down a big waterfall and dying might just be half a foot,” the Monroe, Washington, native says casually. But Berman says he never feels butterflies, even before the most hairball jump, just a Zen-like state of heightened focus. “Most people have fear that keeps them safe,” he says. “I just have to have good judgment.” Berman has never been seriously injured, and his closest call came when he got sucked under a submerged rock while partying with friends on a mellow Class II rapid. When he finally surfaced after being trapped for almost a minute upside down underwater, Berman’s first thought was about the irony of the world’s most extreme paddler dying on a river that CPAs run with impunity. His second?” ‘Oh, that was kind of fun. If I knew I would live, I’d go and do it again.”‘

Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins
Skateboarder
2004 X Games gold medalist When she won her X Games medal at age fifteen, Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins climbed up on the podium, held up her skateboard with “RIP” inscribed on the deck, and said, “That was for my dad.” It was a fitting tribute to the man who bought Adams her first skateboard, when she was a year old, and died seven months before she won the title. But the world’s best female skateboarder has always been precocious — on and off the ramp. Last year, she threatened a walkout over the pay disparity between male and female riders (the male X Games champ got $50,000): Adams Hawkins took home just $2,000). Still, the former Girl Scout is paying a high price for her sport. Last year, Adams broke her arm and bashed her head pulling off a skating stunt for a photo shoot, then blew out her knee in a February crash. She lives with her family in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, but can’t walk on the beach because it aggravates the tendinitis in her knees. So while she’ll miss the X Games as she recovers from surgery, Adams Hawkins channels her drive into physical therapy, listening to Andre Nickatina on her iPod and waiting until she’s healed enough to start pushing the envelope again.

JEREMY “TWITCH” STENBERG
Motocross Rider
2005 X Games gold medalist Jeremy Stenberg is a little sore. At a recent stop on the Freestyle Motocross tour in late June, his rivals were pulling off new tricks and he was feeling the pressure. So he tried a back flip – a move normally done on a 155-foot ramp — off a puny 2-foot jump. “I got caught up in the competition,” he says. “I just blew it.” Stenberg, 25, was tossed thirty feet off his bike and cratered on impact. The result: compound fractures of his tibia and fibula, and a shattered ankle. This was small change compared with a 2001 crash when Stenberg lacerated his liver, broke four ribs, shattered his wrist and spent three and a half weeks in a hospital. But his ICU time notwithstanding, Stenberg believes motocross saved him from a tougher fate on the mean streets of San Diego. “I was constantly going out and smoking weed, doing Ecstasy and coke,” he recalls. Now Stenberg’s life off the bike is surprisingly staid. Near his Murrieta, California, home, he rides dirt bikes with his five-year-old daughter Katrina, barbecues with his buddies in the Metal Mulisha, a rider posse turned clothing firm, and even reads the Bible daily. “God holds everyone’s cards,” he says philosophically. “And maybe it’s just my time to be hurt right now.”

Chris Sharma
Rock Climber
1999 X Games gold medalist; 2001 Worldcup Champion (DQ) In 2001, Chris Sharma was the first to climb one of the world’s hardest routes, a sheer rock wall in southern France dubbed Realization. He further polished his credentials in world-class rock climbing by winning the Worldcup championship in bouldering – and then being disqualified after testing positive for THC. (“Marijuana’s not a performance-enhancing drug, but I should have known better,” he says.) But he’s gotten past all that. “I don’t feel like I need to have grades or anything,” he says quietly. “We try to respect the rock, you know? We treat it with a lot of love.” After taking a step back from competition for a few years, Sharma, considered the most innovative climber alive, is back with a quiet vengeance. Sharma’s latest passion is deep-water soloing (free climbing without ropes over the ocean). And he has one Holy Grail: an arch in Majorca, Spain, that continues to vex him the way Realization once did. He insists he’ll conquer the route. “You get obsessed, and it becomes your nemesis,” says Sharma. “You get to the point where you almost expect you’re gonna fall. That’s when you can do something amazing.”

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