Monika Wanis – Why I like extreme sports!

2010 Skydive with “Tree Man” in Middletown, Ohio

Hi! My name is Monika Wanis, I am a second year Biocultural Medical anthropology graduate student. I am originally from Cairo, Egypt but have lived in Columbus, Ohio for the past 20 years. I attended The Ohio State University for my undergraduate degree in Anthropology, Psychology, Integrative Medicine and Neuroscience. I speak Arabic, English, Spanish, and Russian. I am also currently a TA for 2 sections of Cultural Anthropology. My favorite hobby is doing any extreme sport. I went skydiving on August 27th of this year for the second time for my birthday! According to Tinbergen’s 4 Questions Why, here is why I like extreme sports:

Proximate Causes

  • Mechanism – Physiologically, extreme sports often involve behaviors that increase your heart rate and produce a surge in hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and dopamine. These substances may cause feelings of happiness and euphoria, therefore providing positive feedback for the extreme behavior and potentially creating a feedback loop.
  • Ontogeny – My interest in extreme sports has developed over a lifetime. I don’t think I was born with an innate desire to jump out of airplanes. I may have been born with a slight bias towards risky behaviors but then through interactions with people who are involved with extreme sports, I became attracted to the hobby and over time, began experiencing and enjoying them more.

Ultimate Causes

  • Adaptive Value – While extreme sports may appear to be in contrast to increasing my reproductive fitness, it actually may contribute to it! If I were to die doing an extreme sport then obviously it does not contribute to my reproductive fitness. However, doing extreme sports and surviving may be a mechanism of sexual signaling to onlookers that indicates that although I engage in these risky behaviors, I am strong/smart/clever/etc. enough to survive, thus, increasing my my mating and reproductive potential because those are characteristics that increase my chances of survival.
  • Phylogeny – This interest in extreme sports may have evolved to set myself apart from the rest. Due to an increase in education levels, income, competition in the job market, an interest in extreme sports could be an evolution due to these selective pressures. Practicing extreme sports is a behavior that is different from what is traditionally seen as a desirable characteristic in a mate, therefore, it may have evolved as an additional characteristic that may be seen as desirable.


Running On


I began running in the form of track in the eighth grade.  I, unfortunately, was sick on the day of sign ups and was automatically put in the two mile race where no one wanted to be and where there was plenty of space for me.  Initially I hated the “long distance” (only considered long distance in the context of track & field) but in the fall of my eighth grade year I somehow found myself surrounded by a bunch of sleepy eyed cross country runners.  I wasn’t good.  I finally improved enough by the end of middle school to justify trying out for the sport in high school and I wasn’t good at any other sport anyways.  However, when I arrived for tryouts I found that really there was no such thing.  Running was a place where people go when they are either made for running or aren’t made for anything else and so we had no tryouts.  What we did have was an abundance of runners at various levels.  I was a slow freshman.  We worked out very early, often before the sun rose.  My coach was very skilled at her job and I credit her to this day for helping me to learn how to run better.  I slowly improved and by the end of my first high school season I was actually enjoying the sport, my team, and making vast improvements in race time.  Running is something I came to love very much.  My favorite races ended up being the mile in track because of the swiftness of it and how you can also feel your competition at your heels and the half marathon or long trail runs.  Unfortunately, during my freshman year at college in a fit of youthful over zealousness I ran a succession of half marathons (maybe 2 or 3) then a 16 mile trail run all within a month or two of each other and ended up injuring myself.  At the present moment I cannot run much or far but it is a long term goal of mine to recover and enjoy running again.

To explain my running in Tinbergen’s terms:

  1. Historical (Evolutionary): I believe this is somewhat straight forward.  Humans adapted bipedal motion and then running so that they could better hunt prey for survival and reproduction.  We don’t have to run to hunt now but we are able to run for incredibly long distances.  I believe ultra-marathoners run more than 100 miles at a time illustrating that we could run for very long distances if needed.
  2. Proximal: I had to join a sport or take a physical education class in the state and city where I lived and I was loathe to take P.E. in high school.  That is why I decided to run track and cross country.  I knew I would never be good enough to make it in high school volley ball and basketball which are relatively competitive in my area.  So I joined the reject sport and it turned out alright.
  3. Developmental:  Joining the team also served a social purpose in my life.  It makes sense to me that the school practically forces kids into organized sports, band, or something else.  Being part of a team certainly was important to my high school experience and was probably the best part of it.
  4. Functional (physiological):  Need I say it? Runners high!  I’m actually not sure what this sensation is supposed to feel like because I’m not sure if I’ve ever experienced it.  I can say that after waking up at 5am and running we all certainly felt better.  We were happier than most people are at 5, 6 or 7 in the morning.  Our metabolisms seemed to be good and our appetites were certainly stronger.

    I won’t be running this fall but I will be enjoying Bama football!