Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Valor's Flip Side

As a boy, I was the undefeated, all-time champ in the Kenny household of "Who Can Hit The Lightest" and since ours was the only household that sanctioned that particular sport, I was the one who walked around with arms outstretched (well, not immediately since one the spoils of victory included arms too bruised and sore to fully extend for several days thereafter) as the recognized Who Can Hit The Lightest World Champion. There was no prize money involved. Now that I think about it, other than the bruises there was damn little in terms of an actual, tangible prize.

Long I wandered through this land thinking that I was the last pure athlete. Thinking that I was indeed the last competitor who raised his game to the highest allowable level simply for the pure satisfaction derived from a job well done - from a performance in which 100% of effort had been wrung. Reading yesterday's newspaper I learned that there are titans still walking this Earth. Men whose combination of unparalleled toughness and - well - unequaled stupidity may not be seen again.

Apparently for the past ten or eleven years, the World Sauna Championship has been contested (hotly no doubt) in Finland. Feel free to peruse its official website for more details. The rules - and there are one dozen of them - read like something that a bunch of college kids would have dreamed up (with the exception of Rule #2, which forbids the use of alcohol) after a night of too much drinking and 'shrooming. In the Men's competition, the finals start with the sauna room's temperature at a robust 230 degrees Fahrenheit. While that might be a tad chilly if you are a muffin, it is a bit warm for us humans.

And that is after all only the beginning of the competition. No one gets crowned "Champion" at the starting temperature. The action heats up (sue me) from that point forward as a half-liter of water gets poured on the stove every thirty seconds thereafter. Sounds like fun; right?

This past weekend in Finland, one of the two finalists for the World Championship died. Russian Vladimir Ladyzhenskiy died, apparently, from injuries suffered due to the excessive heat to which he voluntarily subjected himself in his quest to win the title. Presumably he knew what he was getting himself into when he entered this year's competition as he competed last year and according to one report I saw finished in third place, which I think means he won the "bronzed" medal.

Thankfully it appears as if his death will be the final one associated with this indisputably asinine competition. Saija Jappinen, Finland's cultural secretary, later announced the end of the event. "After this incident we decided that this game is over and done," he said. Is anyone else wondering how broadly the Finns define the word "culture" if this contest falls within the purview of the cultural secretary? I suppose not every nation can be lucky enough to have "Jersey Shore".

It has been said that to the victor goes the spoils. What exactly are the "spoils" associated with being World Sauna Champion? Apparently not too much. According to a spokesman for the competition, there was no prize other than "some small things" although he would not specify whether those small things included Chap-Stick and some type of moisturizer. The lengths to which we go as humans to poke our finger in Fate's eye never ceases to amaze me. I still know not what strikes me as more surreal about this story: that Mr. Ladyzhenskiy died or that in the eleven previous editions of this craziness no one ever had.

Most of the English-speaking world is familiar with the old adage about discretion being the better part of valor. As a boy, Dad explained it to me a bit differently. According to my father, "Stupidity is the flip side of valor." I reckon he nailed it. Quite succinctly too.

Life is like a box of chocolates
You never know what you're gonna get.
Stupid is as stupid does,
And all the rest of that shit.


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