Taking sports to the extreme - Denver museum exhibit takes visitors into world of athletic thrills


When Andrew Fraser was a boy growing up in Littleton, he knew he wanted to fly. Not only would he daydream of gliding through the sky, but at night, he would have active lucid dreams about flying.

He was finally able to realize his dreams of flying after skydiving 200 times — the number of times required by the United States Parachute Association to fly in a wingsuit, which is a one-piece article of clothing that allows a person to glide through the air while free-falling.

The art of wingsuit flying isn’t the province of reckless people on the fringe of society, Fraser says, despite the fact that he jumps from high in the sky to the ground. Instead, it’s done by extreme sport athletes who are thoughtful, calculated and grounded individuals.

“While it does require a degree of athleticism, strength and balance, it requires a mental fortitude and practice of regulating anxiety, fear and the nervous system. It’s an escape from the daily (life) of work relationships, paying bills, etc.,” said Fraser. “It’s what many describe as a flow state, that feeling of being totally present in the moment and really in the state of total connection with my surroundings.”

Like Fraser’s hobby, other extreme sports such as parkour, free soloing and snowboarding take a dedicated amount of training and practice to accomplish. At the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the “Extreme Sports: Beyond Human Limits” exhibit gives visitors a chance to learn about those sports and to explore the psychology, physicality and physiology of extreme sport athletes.

The exhibit is interactive and gives visitors plenty of ways to experience extreme sports like virtually jumping off a cliff, completing a course developed by the American Ninja Warriors at Ninja Nation, seeing what it’s like to be in charge of a wingsuit — and going into the exhibit’s Immersion Room, where visitors can experience what it’s like to ride a mountain bike through a Utah desert, kayak on whitewater and more.

The temporary exhibit, which comes from the Canadian museum Science North, located near Sudbury in northern Ontario, includes a touch of Colorado spirit by featuring stories about Colorado athletes like Fraser; Maureen Beck, an ice and rock climber who was born without a left hand; and others.

“We have a really fascinating exhibit that tells stories of real people who are some of the world’s most amazing athletes. At the same time, there’s access for people of every age where they can come in here and find something to do that fits their physical and intellectual levels,” said Tim Blesse, teacher professional development coordinator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. “It’s a great time out for the whole family.”

Other features of the exhibit include quizzes that help you see how gutsy you are to perform the activities extreme athletes do and videos that show visitors what is going through an athlete’s mind while they perform their extreme sport.

The exhibit is open until April 12, 2020 and is free with general museum admission.

“The most compelling thing is it has me think about challenge in new ways, how to incorporate more challenge and think about challenge in my everyday life. The exhibition just does a good job of exploring challenge and how to do it,” said Jodi Schoemer, director of experiences and partnerships at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. “By seeing it, I feel like a more empowered individual.”


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