Why extreme daredevil Richard Bowles risks his life in the name of charity

Richard Bowles' daredevil nature is apparent within seconds of speaking to him.

"I need to do something big otherwise I'm just part of the normal people. I don't want to be one of them."

The 39-year-old from Melbourne argues that the "ultra marathon" is the new marathon: "Every second person you speak to now has done a marathon."

This, however, is leading to a potentially dangerous trend. To attract sponsorship, charity fundraisers are turning to ever more extreme and wacky events, to do something worthy of the sponsorship dollars from friends and family.

The unremarkable marathon, it seems, no longer cuts it. But by raising funds to transform or save lives, people are risking losing theirs.

Superman gets sick

Climbing a mountain is no longer impressive enough to warrant sponsorship: now it has to be done naked or in nothing but a pair of Superman undies.

Ironically, the who'd climbed up Mount Snowdon nearly nude, got hypothermia. Nathan French was raising money for Dementia UK, after his Nan's diagnosis.

Nude stunts

The trend of nude or nearly-nude stunts, dares or challenge events seems to be a way people – mainly men, it has to be said – can acquire bragging rights, sponsorship dollars from friends and family for a good cause – and that perfect selfie.

Scott Carney recently climbed up Mount Kilimanjaro wearing very little.  He explained in a talk how it's done by suppressing your shiver response, redirecting it to force your metabolism to take over those heating duties: "This doesn't give you superpowers. It gives you human powers. Small steps such as cold showers put you in touch with that evolutionary power. Our bodies know what to do with environmental stimulus (such as the cold). We just have to let them."

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Carney named daredevil Wim Hof as his hero for "getting up three quarters of Mount Everest in just shorts."

Doing something extraordinary

It's mean-spirited to criticise the motivation behind any charity fundraiser to raise money for a good cause, or the charity itself for providing essential services to those in need.

But as the bar lifts on challenging events, people are dreaming of wackier ways to encourage their friends and family to dig deep. It seems the cause itself isn't always motivation enough to donate: people want to sponsor something they know took remarkable courage or endurance.

The ultimate daredevil

Consultant Richard Bowles has undertaken some pretty extreme feats whilst raising money. He has swam across a croc-infested river, been chased by orangutans, been shot at by drug dealers and farmers and got caught in an avalanche and washed down a waterfall.

In one video, you can , Mt Singabung, as the Indonesian government had evacuated 60,000 people from surrounding villages for which he received "some bruises from hot rocks falling from the sky." Another 14-day trek saw him suffer a "life-threatening foot infection."

Bowles describes himself less as a daredevil and more as a "growth devil" – he says: "my partner is fearful if I'll come back or not, but understands this isn't a want – it's a non-negotiable need to grow."

Are these activities unwise, I ask? "Is it a foolish or unwise situation to cross over a croc-infested river? Probably."

He says the charity fundraising gives meaning to what he does, and has previously fundraised for charities including SANE Australia "to invest in my future", he laughs.

Charities and their responsibility

SANE Australia put out a when Bowles planned to raise funds for them by running "a marathon every day for almost six months, through some of Australia's most inhospitable country" – the Bicentennial National Trail.

I spoke to SANE's CEO Jack Heath about sanctioning fundraisers. He doesn't think people going to extremes to get sponsored is a big trend and said "In five and a half years, most events people do to raise money for us have resulted in no other injuries other than a few blisters." He adds: "If someone came to us with a proposal for an ultra marathon, we'd need to have a bit of a think about that."

 

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The Snowy Ride tragedy

No matter what precautions are taken, some activities will always be dangerous.

In 2013, at Thredbo's Snowy Ride for the Steven Walter Foundation.

The Foundation was named after 19-year-old Steven Walter, who loved dirt biking till his cancer diagnosis made him too frail to continue, so he switched to motorbikes. After he died, he asked his family to do a motorcycling event to raise funds for cancer research – the event has raised $7m over 17 years.

I asked Kylie Di Cesare at the Steven Walter Foundation if the risk assessment for the event changed after the tragedy: "We haven't changed way event is structured in 17 years. Our top priority has always been safety."

Tragedy struck the Honda Snowy Ride again in 2015, when another participant died riding his motorbike the day before the event. Di Cesare adds: "Motorcycling does carry risks and we have to manage that the best way we can, for example, stressing it's a ride, not a race."

As with most things, when it comes to raising money for such excellent causes, individual responsibility seems to be the guiding principle for any would-be dare-devil. Or as I'd prefer to call it: common sense.

Raise funds for the Steven Walter Foundation or for SANE .

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