Stride Stories: Embracing risk but staying safe— a guest post by Dean Potter
An artist and master of calculating risk, Dean Potter spearheaded the freesolo climbing and slacklining movements. We were lucky enough to work with this incredible athlete. To honor Dean’s memory, we’ve decided to leave the inspirational words Dean wrote as a Stride Athlete in February 2015.
I like to think of myself as normal. Yet almost every time I meet someone they say, “…You’re crazy…” Lately I’ve been realizing that I live on the fringe of what society thinks acceptable. I’m a soloist. I pursue some of the most dangerous outdoor arts known to man. I spend my days wingsuit BASE-jumping, walking highlines/tightropes and climbing massive rock faces by myself. I know I must seem “out there” to folks who believe I have a death wish, but they never look below the surface to see I have a calculated method for staying alive and healthy.
My hair is starting to gray and I’m almost 43 years old. I’ve been practicing my crafts for over 30 years without serious injury other than a few sprains, scrapes and scratches. For sure I’m fortunate and have been occasionally lucky through the years. But I’ve created a checklist that’s consistently keeping me safe. I call it Basic Safety, my calculated method of reducing human error and gear imperfections to lessen hazards within my dangerous arts. I know this method is the difference between me and many others who’ve not been so lucky.
In my case, the line between success and failure is obvious. I stake my life on my principals, enact my plan accordingly and don’t flinch as I carry out my visions or I’ll die. This is as powerful as life gets but don’t be fooled, we all do it. Whether you are planning what career you’ll pursue, who your friends are or even where you’ll travel that day or what food you eat; every decision we make results in the quality of life we live and inevitably our life and death.
I know why I’m misunderstood and why many people think I’m a mere madman. It’s because the media doesn’t think it’s compelling to tell a story about a meticulously cautious fellow who lives in harmony with nature and seeks to understand himself in the mountains and on big walls. Instead the media promotes the daredevil who launches himself into the unknown without a single thought of disaster striking. That’s not me. But it must be a little bit because time and time again that’s the guy I see on the big screens, webisodes and in the magazines.
I used to be a climbing bum. I lived under boulders for years and did nothing but obsess on the intricacies of the rock and new and creative ways to make my way up, down, across and even between its empty spaces, curves, peaks and formations. Soon people noticed that I was doing things that were once considered impossible. Offers came in from different companies for sponsorship. I was tired of having little money, so I said yes. Now I make my living by endorsing like-minded companies who associate their brands with my innovations, focus, persistence, strength and willpower. I’ve never sought after these connections and know that one day they will phase out just as easily as they came my way. But hopefully other opportunities will emerge and I’ll be smart enough to feel out what’s right when the time comes.
Recently during the West Coast Premier of the breakthrough Yosemite climbing film, Valley Uprising, Stride approached me and asked if I’d be interested in them helping me find the right health insurance. I thought - this is really freakin’ crazy! Here is a company who just watched me moments earlier in a radical film doing my hardest freesolo climbs, untethered highline walks and cutting edge wingsuit flights and now they want to help insure me? For real?
Stride approached me at a pivotal time. As Stride was showing interest in associating their brand with mine, one of my other main sponsors Clif Bar was actually firing me for being too extreme after they watched Valley Uprising and saw what it was I’ve been doing all these years. The modern world is going in many directions at once. Huge companies like Clif Bar play it safe as they sit on top. They think I’m too much of a risk and might endanger how many bars they sell at Walmart so they cut our long-lasting relationship and disregard the human element because they didn’t look beyond they surface of what the media was telling them to think.
Stride, however, looks beyond the superficial. Stride must have noticed that this mountain freak has a methodology for surviving unscathed for decades. Stride immediately understood that I don’t just lay it all out on a Hail Mary prayer. They actually saw I grasp the risks and take action to prevent the horrible from happening. Two seemingly opposites connect.… A guy that turns dying to flying finds a friend in healthcare who doesn’t call him crazy and believes if they can find the right health insurance for the “lunatic maniac”, then they can find the perfect health insurance solution for anybody!
Now I spend my time living in Yosemite, as I have for over 22-years, but I breathe a little easier. I still like sleeping under boulders from time to time alone, even though I have a house, girl friend and little dog. My love for extreme arts is still growing, as there is still so much unknown. I wake up in the dirt because I like it! I drink fresh water filtered from the rock face that provides my foundation and ascend upwards taking deep breaths of clean, forest-filtered air in hopes of growing closer to my environment, the collective consciousness and understanding more of the intricacies within me.
I’ve made my way by finding similarities in opposites and creating hybridizations. But I never saw this unique connection with health insurance coming. I always assumed getting health insurance was one of my biggest weaknesses and I had to lie about who I really am. Yet we all have the ability to turn the worst things in life into the best things. We can flip our realities with just a mental shift. I’ve learned when a new, unexpected door opens, to see the opportunity and walk through. I hope I never have to experience a brutal injury or some unseen genetic weakness, but it’s pretty inevitable that something will happen to us all eventually. I want to die peacefully of old age but if life twists differently than hoped, I now have friends in high places who will help me take on the next seemingly insurmountable challenge of turning impossible to possible in stride.