Evel Knievel: The father of extreme sports

Bobby Kneivel was 28 years old with a chequered history. He had started and promoted an ice hockey team. Had held a job as an insurance salesman. Worked as a guide who helped people hunt big prey. Had even led a life of crime (without getting caught). 

But when his first son was born, he tried to settle down. And so he opened up a Honda motorcycle dealership. But sales were slow and his family was struggling. And so, Bobby decided to host a show to drum up business. A show where he would perform motorcycle stunts. He rented a venue, wrote press releases to promote it, and sold tickets.

On the day of the show, he did a few wheelies on his motorcycle. And then proceeded to jump over two mountain lions and a 40 foot long wooden pen filled with venomous snakes!

He almost didn’t make the jump as the rear wheel of his bike hit the pen filled with snakes. Bobby even sprained his ankle. But he realized that he could jump over weird stuff and draw a crowd and make money.

Sponsors asked Bobby to change his name to Evil Knievel to draw in bigger crowds. But Bobby didn’t want to associate himself with Hells Angels, and so he took the moniker Evel Knievel.

Knievel breaks records and more

Over the next decade, Evel Knievel performed bigger and bigger motorcycle stunts. With the advent of TV, his fame grew – as his stunts made for amazing gripping television. He broke more and more records for jumping over cars and buses. He jumped over the fountains at Ceasar’s Palace. And jumped over canyons. His stunts became more dangerous. At one point of time, he was as famous as Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali!

But beyond breaking records, he also broke something else. His bones. Would you be surprised to know that along with the longest motorcycle jump, Knievel also held the Guinness Book of World Records for the most number of broken bones?

Knievel has had over 35 operations because of failed jumps. He was in coma once for over 30 days. And yet he continued to jump.

On one fateful day, he was going to jump over 13 Pepsi trucks. He knew before he made the jump that it was a questionable jump. Not enough space to gain enough speed to make the jump well. But yet, Knievel went ahead with the jump. And broke his collarbone.

Was Evel Knievel crazy?

You have to be a little crazy to do stunts that can kill you. But Knievel was something more than crazy. He was committed. “A man does not go back on his word.”

No matter what the situations were, if Knievel had given his word to do the stunt, he would not back down. It’s this crazy commitment that gave him broken bones as well as fame and glory.

What does commitment really mean?

If Knievel was merely determined to become the greatest stuntman, he would have quit on his first serious injury. Or maybe his second serious injury at most. Because determination is a transient fuel, and you can run out of it. But commitment is something deeper. It is irrevocable. It’s a choice that comes with sacrifice. That no matter the odds, or your personal cost, you won’t give up.

Determination is an emotional feeling that you build up for being persistent towards a goal despite obstacles. But commitment is a choice. A promise. That even if emotions change, you will follow through.

Committed people hang on a little longer – even after determined people have thrown in the towel.

The difference between mere determination and crazy commitment

Banzo the master swordsman had a lot of students who came to him to learn the art of swordsmanship. One of his students was extremely determined. He would put in a lot of hours to try and emulate other master students. And slowly, he started becoming really good. But he plateaued out and could not surpass the best student. He remained second best.

He asked Banzo why, after so much determination and discipline, did he fail to become the best? Banzo merely replied, I’ll tell you when the time is right.

One more year went by and the student still didn’t manage to become the best. He asked Banzo the same question again, and again received the same reply.

After a few more years of remaining second best, he lost his drive a bit. And stopped putting in his best effort. And that’s when Banzo called him and explained. This is the difference. You derive your motivation from surpassing others. Whereas he derives his energy from being committed to swordsmanship. 

Motivation can dry away. But commitment means you put yourself in a choiceless situation. You stay committed irrespective of whether you gain the reward or not. 

The world is moved ahead by committed people. The crazies. The people others point to as a cautionary tale. Commitment can lead to suffering. But it is also the thing that leads to mastery. It is because of unreasonably committed people that the world moves ahead.

The fear of commitment

Most people don’t commit. Because they want perfection in their lives. They have a fear of missing out on the good things. 

They don’t realize that good things happen because of deep commitment. That mastery comes out of unflinching commitment. Why chase good things when you can build your own legendary thing?

There are some problems that determination alone can’t solve. You need to be committed. And commitment requires a price to pay. Knievel had to pay with broken bones to become legendary. Are you ready to commit?

Action Summary:

  • What values are you committed to? For what goals will you become unreasonable and stubborn and won’t give up no matter what?
  • Commitment is a choice. Commitment requires a price. Are you willing to commit and hang on even beyond your breaking point?