Today marks a year since we lost one of the world’s great free spirits and adventurers, Hannes Arch.
As a youngster growing up in Austria’s mountains, Arch spent his time climbing. He took up hang-gliding aged 15 before a switch to paragliding and BASE jumping. The Austrian would become a true pioneer as the first man to leap from the North Face of the Eiger and the first to land a paraglider on a hot air balloon.
Arch later allowed himself the relative comfort of an aeroplane, seeing off the world’s best aerobatic pilots to win the 2008 Red Bull Air Race world championship.
‘If you do all those really dangerous sports you know exactly where you are,’ Arch told me in a 2014 interview that features in the book In The Zone. ‘Nobody wants to die, especially me, because I really love life. Sometimes you turn around and don’t jump because you know it would be dangerous.
‘These sports also teach you to handle risk so they are the perfect preparation for air racing: focus is the most important factor for surviving dangerous sports, but also to be fast in air racing. The interesting thing is that if you are in this mindset – focused 100 percent on flying without having to deal with thoughts of crashing or risk – you get really fast. And when you get really fast you realise you are always really safe. When you start to risk and play unsafe it slows you down.’
Air racing is such an extreme sport it forces pilots into clearing their minds – fast – and it’s the same with all who push to the edge. Arch sure was fast, too. Overall he won 11 races, finishing in the Red Bull Air Race top three for five straight years.
Elsewhere this ‘lover of life’ invented the Red Bull X-Alps: a punishing dash from Salzburg to Monaco by foot or paraglider. The latest edition took place in July, 2017 and the event will continue as a living legacy to its crazily creative craftsman.
Arch also used his skills as a helicopter pilot to help out with charity efforts in Nepal by ferrying supplies to remote mountain communities. He was flying a helicopter from a hut in his beloved Austrian mountains when he crashed and died on September 8, 2016 – just shy of his 49th birthday.
Thanks for all the memories, Hannes. And keep flying high.
Mindfulness. Pure focus. Total concentration. That magical sensation of quieting the mind and living in the now…
These concepts have only recently breached mainstream Western consciousness, yet over the last decade they have gained ever greater prominence. But it’s not just about sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop, or even staring at a candle in the living room. The path to ultimate inner peace can appear anywhere – and a shortcut is often found in conditions that are diametrically opposed to any idea of ‘calm’.
Sport is a classic example, especially those involving extremes of speed – such as the world’s fastest form of motorsport, the Red Bull Air Race, where single-seater planes twist, spin and loop just metres above land and sea.
In the new book In The Zone, Germany’s reigning air race world champion Matthias Dolderer insists: ‘You’re so focused and concentrated there is nothing else that can distract you. You don’t have time and you are fully 100 percent concentrated on what you’re doing. When you fly, whatever happened before this is gone. Actually, to fly in the racetrack is the best way to get rid of all distractions.’
Mindful? Focused? Concentrated? Check. This clutter-free mind is crucial for sport, hence why techniques to induce this state of mind are now commonplace. Legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson used this approach to mould his successful Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers teams, while Nico Rosberg admits he turned to meditation to find the mental strength to beat Lewis Hamilton to the 2016 F1 world championship.
But really there’s nothing new about this hunt; ‘Zen’ Buddhism is a derivation of the Indian Sanskrit ‘dhanya’ meaning meditative concentration. Today Japanese air racer Yoshihide Muroya makes for a good example as a practitioner of zazen, which translates as ‘sitting meditation’.
‘Meditation helps me because it’s mental training,’ Muroya tells me for In The Zone. ‘At an air race I do it every morning. I use it to focus on myself, just to calm down and take away the extraneous thoughts that have been going through my head. In racing there’s no time to think so you need to be focused and automatic.’
Something must have paid off: Muroya heads to his home race in Japan’s Chiba this weekend looking for a repeat of his debut win at the same venue last year. He also won this year’s latest race in San Diego to raise hopes of a Japanese motorsport double in a week following Takuma Sato's Indy 500 win. Best of all, Muroya insists we can all reap the rewards of ‘looking inside’ even if our own office moves rather slower.
‘Meditation is good for flying and it’s a big help for life too,’ he smiles. ‘Everyone can benefit from it. We all have so much going round our brains all the time and we normally look outside so it’s quite difficult to look deep inside. But it’s really good to calm down and looking inside helps make life easier for anyone.’
Read In The Zone to hear more from British Red Bull Air Race world champions Paul Bonhomme and Nigel Lamb plus Canadian racer Pete McLeod, among 100 exclusive interviews with stars of world sport
Clyde Brolin spent over a decade working in F1 before moving on to the wider world of sport - all in a bid to discover the untapped power of the human mind.