National hero dives into the mind of the world’s most daring

Richard Harris is done with talking about himself and is now unravelling the exploits of the world’s most daring people — and he wants kids across the world to listen.Key points:Dr Richard Harris was one of 14 cave divers who helped rescue the Wild Boars soccer team in 2018He has started a podcast interviewing risk takers from around the world and hopes to inspire kids to get outdoorsHollywood company MGM has acquired the rights to the Ron Howard-directed movie about the rescue “Thirteen Lives”It has been two years since the Adelaide doctor anaesthetised 12 young soccer players and their coach so an international group of divers could swim them out of the flooded Tham Luang cave in Thailand.It was a mission with very real dangers for both the children and the rescuers, with one local diver dying in the complicated cave system. Life has been a whirlwind ever since the successful rescue, with Dr Harris being feted across the globe and named as the joint Australian of the Year in 2019, alongside great diving mate and fellow rescuer Craig Challen. That fame and a certain virus have allowed him to start transitioning out of medicine.”I’m very grateful for the opportunities that it’s given me, how many people get to potentially change careers or do something which is more of a passion project for their lives at 55,” Dr Harris said.”I think that’s amazingly lucky and an incredible opportunity and I don’t want to waste it for a second.”Richard Harris (left) was named Australian of the Year along with friend and fellow rescuer Craig Challen.(ABC News: Clare Sibthorpe)That passion project is his Real Risk podcast, which delves into thrill-seekers around the world and what makes them do it.”I wanted to find out about motivation of risk-takers because for many years people have said to me, ‘why be a cave diver, you must have a death wish to go swimming into a cave, why would you possibly do that?’,” he said.Among those he has spoken to are a free diver and a Mount Everest climber, but a personal favourite is American BASE jumper Sean Chuma.”He’s done over 6,700 BASE jumps, more than anyone else in the world pretty much and yet he can’t remember the names of all the people who have died in the sport,” he said.”I asked him the obvious question, ‘what’s your secret?, Why are you still alive?’ And he said ‘because I have very good judgement and I’m very happy to walk away if things don’t feel right’.”Dr Harris is passionate about encouraging children to get outdoors and take risks.(Supplied: Richard Harris)Push to get more kids outdoorsDr Harris said probing into the lives of risk takers made one thing very obvious.”All these people are actually very thoughtful, methodical, careful people — they just do things that frighten the rest of us,” he explained.”The reason that they survive is because they put so much risk mitigation in place, they plan things very carefully,” The whole concept of risk-taking is one he wants to get through to today’s generations of kids, with so many lost to their computer screens.”You have to suffer a few bruises and scrapes along the way to grow normally.”Getting kids outdoors is his real passion project, hence his involvement with the Kids Foundation.”It’s very important to be able to explore a little bit more independently, even just in their local neighbourhood and get away from both the screens, but also the supervision of their parents for a little while,” he said.”You need to find your own boundaries by getting out by yourself and making a few mistakes.”And he hopes the lessons of the pandemic encourage adults to get out there too.Acclaimed Hollywood director Ron Howard is working on a movie about the Thai caves rescue, focusing predominantly on the work by the British divers involved.Richard Harris (right) is working on a documentary about his experience in Thailand.(ABC News)’The media can be great friends’Dr Harris is working on a separate project to put together a documentary on the unforgettable Thailand experience, as well as writing a children’s book.It is ironic the doctor is now heavily ensconced in the media and entertainment sector, after initially shunning the limelight.”I used to be horrified about public speaking, the idea of doing a media interview filled me with terror,” he said.But being named Australian of the Year with its requisite public responsibilities changed his perceptions on talking publicly.”I had a strong obligation to do it and, if you haven’t done anything wrong, the media can be great friends,” he said.And when the COVID-19 crisis eventually quietens down, Dr Harris will dust off his own adventurer boots, or should that be flippers, and head off on more personal adventures.
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