Thursday, June 01, 2006

David Blaine: Pushing the boundaries of sport

(May 9, 2006)

For those of you who don't know who David Blaine is, the first thing that I want you to do is to climb out from underneath that rock. Now, I'll enlighten you.

The media often refers to Blaine as an illusionist or magician. He says that he is neither. Instead, Blaine calls himself a performance artist. I happen to agree with him.

Yes, the Brooklyn-born Blaine did indeed start out as a New York City street magic performer. He performed acts such as card and levitation tricks, and bringing dead flies back to life. That was then, this is now. Over the course of the last seven years, Blaine has taken his act to the legendary Harry Houdini’s level. Referring to Blaine as simply a Magician is doing him a disservice. The death-defying stunts and feats of endurance that he has completed over the years are not sleight of hand magic tricks. They are physical feats that teeter on the verge of impossibility. He underwent months, sometimes years, of vigorous dieting and physical training. That sounds like a great competitor to me. Possibly even what I’d call an athlete?

Look at how Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the word.

athlete: a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina

Again, that sounds like Blaine to me. Is Blaine any less of an athlete than some of today’s competitors that we consider great athletes? Tiger Woods? Shaun White? Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Tony Hawk? It’s a bold suggestion, but one that deserves further examination.

Many are quick to doubt or discredit Blaine, which in my opinion is just ridiculous. While performing his stunts he always places himself in a public place (usually somewhere in NYC), making him easily accessible to anyone who wants to take a closer look. Also, he has always remained fully visible and allowed the use of live television and webcams to authenticate his feats. Despite what the pundits might say, Blaine is actually doing these things that nobody else has ever done before.

The way Blaine is treated by a large share of the media is really no different than the way they have treated Barry Bonds, Kobe Bryant and Lance Armstrong. Basically, there is a whole lot of hatin’ going on. A bunch of crusty 45-year-old armchair athletes that have nothing better to do but to sit around and invalidate the greatest individual feats of our time. This list of David Blaine’s greatest feats speaks for itself…

“Premature Burial” (April 5, 1999)

Blaine was buried in a glass coffin at the bottom of an open pit for seven days. The pit was in front of a NYC office building, allowing spectators to view Blaine at all times.

“Frozen in Time” (November 27, 2000)

Blaine spent 61 hours, 40 minutes, and 15 seconds encased in a transparent block of ice that was slightly suspended from the ground. A tube provided him with air and water. Another tube removed his urine. Blaine says that he didn’t walk right for a month after this stunt. This took place in Time Square, NYC.

“Vertigo” (May 22, 2002)

Blaine was crane lifted onto a 90’ high pillar, which was 22” wide. He remained there and kept his balance for just a shade under 35 hours. He didn’t have food, water, or anything at all to lean on. Blaine had no safety harnesses and didn’t have safety nets underneath him for almost the whole duration. He punctuated this feat with an exclamation point by jumping off of the pillar and onto a landing platform made out of a pile of cardboard boxes. He suffered a concussion as a result of this jump, but fully recovered. This took place in NYC’s Bryant Park.

“Above the Below” (September 5, 2003)

For 44 days, Blaine was sealed inside a small, clear plexiglass case that was suspended 30 feet in the air. He received water, but no food at all. There was a webcam inside the case that allowed viewers to watch Blaine. He lost 54 lbs. during this feat. This took place over the Thames River in London.

“Drowned Alive” (May 1, 2006)

During his most recent stunt, Blaine was underwater in an 8' water-filled sphere for a planned seven days and seven nights. He used tubes for food and water and to relieve himself. At the conclusion of this feat, Blaine attempted to break the underwater-breath-holding record of 8 minutes and 58 seconds. He could only muster 7 minutes and 8 seconds. During the weeklong stunt a doctor urged Blaine to get out of the water, stating later that Blaine was "pushing his body insanely to the limits." Because he didn’t want to disappoint his fans, Blaine gave no consideration to this warning and remained submerged underwater. He has suffered liver failure, atrophied muscles and various other injuries as a result of this feat. This took place at the plaza of the Lincoln Center in NYC.

For “Drowned Alive”, Blaine trained and dieted for a year in order to drop 50 lbs. so that his body would require less oxygen. He trained with both Navy SEALS and many of the world’s best divers. His dedication and determination should make him a national hero. His ability to exercise mind over matter and do the undoable should be celebrated, not condemned. For example, why is New England Patriots Linebacker Ted Bruschi largely viewed as courageous for returning to football after a stroke, when Blaine is widely considered crazy? That just doesn’t make sense.

Regardless if you consider David Blaine to be a magician, illusionist, stunt artist or athlete, it is hard to deny that the man is remarkable. He is a role model for people of all ages. A living testament that you can achieve almost anything that you put your mind to (and yes, I’m convinced that he will come back and break that underwater-breath-holding record ).

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