The Dangerous Sports Club is a group of eccentrics based in Oxford, England, who endeavour to 'act boldly in timorous, over-protected world'. 'Acting boldly' to the Dangerous Sports Club means acting like madmen to most other people. Why else would David Kirke, one of the club's founding members, have hurled himself from the Royal Gorge Bridge in 1982, 320 m (1030 ft) above the Arkansas River in Colorado? He was attached to the bridge by a length of elasticated cord tied to his ankles. At 260 m (860 ft) the cord was stretched to its limits, and so was Kirke: virtually unconscious, he dangled for over two hours before his companions could haul him back to the bridge.
Grabbing the bull by the horns
History is full of such daredevils. The 'bull leapers' of ancient Crete, for example, used to grab the horns of a charging bull and somersault over its back. These were the forerunners of circus acts such as Hugo Zacchini, a Californian, whose fame was due as much to his showmanship as to his acrobatic skills. In 1929, Zacchini was shot from the mouth of a cannon, propelled by compressed air. He travelled over 40 m (135 ft) through the air at a speed of 130 km/h (80 mph). In the 1870s, the American circus performer John Holtum would catch cannonballs fired at point-blank range - in his own hands.
But death-defying acts can go wrong. The escapologist Harry Houdini used to invite people to punch him hard in the stomach, resisting the blow by tensing his muscles. On October 22, 1926, however, Houdini was struck in the stomach before he had time to prepare himself, and died six days later of a ruptured appendix.
Circus folk perform their dangerous deeds to make money. But people like George Willig, who climbed up the outside of the World Trade Center in New York in 1977 without ropes, or Jaromir Wagner, the Czech who flew the Atlantic strapped to the pylon of a light aircraft in 1980, have no other motive than a love of danger.