training fear camp

Fear Is Not An Option

Words: Vanda Gyuris
Photography: Cassy Athena

When athletes are trained to overcome fear from all angles, the limits of human potential are pushed to the extreme.

Fear is not a bad thing. It can be the tool that pushes humans to reach their ultimate potential. This productive nature of fear is exactly what the Red Bull High Performance group set out to understand with “Performing Under Pressure,” a week-long training camp that pushed ten elite athletes and three entrepreneurs out of their comfort zones and through a series of fear-based activities.

Andy Walshe, who leads the High Performance group at Red Bull, and his team of physiologists tested the group’s physical and mental responses to challenges such as going head to head with massive pythons, laughing and crying on command and underwater breath-holding exercises, and collected data on each participant with the intent of developing personalised strategies for overcoming anxieties in their respective disciplines.

“The camp is created with a vision in mind: how do you optimise yourself when the pressure is high,” says Walshe. “Each element in the camp has a piece that exposes you a little bit and shows us what you need to work on. We wanted to understand pressure from multiple angles.”

The idea that it’s “all in your head” became clear as the athletes overcame primal fears with new strategies including breathing and focussing techniques and meditation. The result was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment across the camp. “Having access to this kind of information is really special. It’s very different from what we are usually exposed to,” says big mountain skier Michelle Parker. “You would think I’d be exhausted after something like this, but I feel completely rejuvenated. I am just elated,” added skier Tatum Monod.  

Watch the full story of the camp below to see how the athletes pushed their own limits.

© Indigenous Films

Breath-hold training

Designed to improve breathing techniques that can provide calm in high-pressure situations, the athletes spent time pushing the limits of how long they could hold their breath in the pool.

underwater breath hold


If we think of human performance in the broader scale, I think we are staggeringly short of what we can become,” says Walshe. “When you integrate body, mind, spirit and if we can unpack that onion and think about how we can improve it, that curve is going to start to accelerate in the near future. The progression has never happened as quickly as it’s happening right now.”

Bomb Disposal

To elevate the group’s mental stress levels, they were forced into a constant state of awareness throughout the camp with surprise booby traps, timed bombs and puzzle challenges.

deactivating bomb


“As a bomb disposal technician, you have to be switched on in combat and then switch off to take care of a bomb. That’s the theme and the concept we want to show the athletes. We are trying to help them slow down and pay attention to details,” says retired Navy bomb expert Perry Sasnett who kept the group on its toes throughout the week with surprise “bomb” situations.

High-Speed Racing

The racing element of the camp pushed the group’s mental agility, bringing the mind and body connection together as they handled their cars at top speeds while trying to keep heart rates low and focus high. 

aaron colton


“It was much easier to handle something like this today than it would have been a couple days ago,” says street freestyle rider Aaron Colton after a day of pushing speeds at the Ventura Raceway in Ventura, CA.


Confronting their primal fears, blindfolded participants had to crawl through a dark box filled with two massive pythons. Navigating the situation forced a heightened sense of awareness, focus and calm.

tatum monod snake


“I think a lot of the stuff we learned here is not only going to make me a better athlete, but a better person,” says freestyle skier Tatum Monod. I was never coached on how to deal with stressful situations, but I feel like now I have tools and things I learned here to combat that fear and work through it.”

improv training

Trainers from Cirque du Soleil asked the group to tap into their emotions and find their expressive ranges. Performing in front of others pushed the athletes to become extroverts while remaining centered and balanced within. 

athlete training


“It’s great when we are able to bring in elements that force arousal of the stress response in a non physical way,” says Walshe. “If public speaking is your fear, elements around that are powerful tools. Here [the participants] were asked to expose themselves by exploring a range of emotions, which even by yourself is unique and new.”

Read more
11 2015

Next story