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Hidden dangers for people who push life to the limit An abiding memory of Charlie Norton is of the afternoon he staggered into The Telegraph's former offices in Canary Wharf, every limb a diagram of pain and his feet stained a strange satsuma colour by lashings of iodine disinfectant. He was returning to work after spending his supposed holiday week running the Marathon des Sables, notorious as the world's toughest foot race. To judge by first impressions, the ordeal had near ruined him. For seven days, Charlie told me between morsels of what little food he could stomach, he had been assailed by tendinitis, chafing, nosebleeds and the everpresent risk of snake bite as he crabbed his way through the dusty desolation of southern Morocco. The only aspect of the experience that he missed was the morphine. Truly, there was never a man more masochistic. Some people choose Sardinia for their downtime. Charlie preferred the Sahara. Earlier this month he was in Morocco again, for a wedding in Tangier. I only know this because my eyes were drawn, reading last Sunday's newspapers, to a photograph of him beneath a headline that began "Stately home adventurer.", in recognition of his residence at Came House, an 18th century Dorset mansion. The first thought, I must confess, was: "What has he done this time?" For Charlie carried a solidly founded reputation for a lifestyle of extremes, whether in submitting to the Yukon Ultra husky race across Alaskan wastes so cold that his balaclava froze to his face, or in entering the Thames Meander a deceptively named 54 mile ultra marathon just as he was trying to wean himself off Marlboro Lights. Charlie Norton at his desk at the Telegraph in 2005 Except I discovered, in a shock that I have yet to absorb fully, that he was dead. The indications are that he fell from a cliff in an early morning stroll to watch the sun come up. Charlie was just 39 years old, leaving behind his wife, Rags, their three year old son and a daughter of 10 months. There was no telling what he could yet have accomplished. He had established a magazine, Vigour, to channel his insatiable appetite for adventure and adrenalin, and set up the charity Flying for Heroes with long standing friend Neil Laughton to help injured servicemen and women to find a fresh path. His loss so young is one of unspeakable sadness, a stark testament to the arbitrariness which the ultimate cruelty can strike. There is a famous TS Eliot line that states: "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." Charlie was one who embodied such wisdom. He had been the last person before me to be appointed from The Telegraph's graduate scheme to the sports department and sought, whenever he reined in the manic energies that he would pour into his latest expedition, to act as a mentor. He could be quite the rogue at times some of his dusk 'til dawn hedonism would have floored a donkey but the more devilish side to his personality always came couched in an effortless charisma. To this day I can still hear his raffish, cackling laugh. It is shattering to reflect that while Charlie exuded the invincibility of youth, he died in the most seemingly unthreatening of circumstances, a force of nature stilled by tragedy and all its awful capriciousness. A similar thought occurred this week upon learning of the condition of Michael Schumacher, one year after he awoke from the coma that followed his skiing accident. The sheer bleakness of the German's predicament that he can identify immediate family members but little else, that Bernie Ecclestone refuses even to visit him for fear of losing sight of "the real Michael" serves as a reminder of the dreadful moment of misfortune that destroyed his life. Schumacher had won seven Formula One titles and 91 grands prix, recorded 68 pole positions and 77 fastest laps, and yet no body of work could shield him when, on an ordinary off piste run with his son 18 months ago, he lost control and landed head first on an outcrop of rock. He had taken the precaution of wearing a helmet, but his head struck the stone at such an angle as to leave him with irreversible brain damage. The most haunting reaction was issued on behalf of his family, who expressed their incredulity that Schumacher, once the unbreakable Teutonic machine, had been so catastrophically injured in "such a banal situation". Dame Kelly Holmes puts Charlie through his paces at Pirbright There is a malevolence in mundanity, and already 2015 has been a terrible year for sports stars falling victim to it. In his 48 Tests in the All Blacks jersey, flanker Jerry Collins showed the scantest regard for self preservation, tackling as ferociously as anybody in the game. He might have dared to feel protected when he embarked last month, with wife Alana, on the drive across the south of France that would culminate in both their deaths when they collided with a bus. Likewise, Camille Moffat, the French Olympic champion swimmer, could reasonably have assumed that she had slipped into the safe bubble of retirement when she began filming a reality show in Argentina. Until, that is, she and two compatriots were killed in March when their helicopter crashed in the Andes. I used to believe that Lewis Hamilton was exceptionally cavalier in dismissing the dangers inherent in motor racing, or in claiming the worst that could happen was that he would die doing something he loved. But the recent concentration of desperate events has prompted a rethink. For we delude ourselves if we imagine that life, even for the most addicted risk takers in sport, is any safer on the outside. The words of one of Charlie Norton's closest friends, Rhodri Jones, that his "spirit of adventure led him to live a life not many can even dream of", could scarcely be more resonant. Better to blaze like a comet, perhaps, than to let one's light be tamely extinguished. Charlie appreciated more powerfully than most that his prime years were finite, and worked with almost obsessive resolve to draw every last drop of fulfilment from them. He was, in his mad and blinkered and zanily intrepid way, an inspiration. I merely wish, acutely, that he was still here so I could tell him.