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September 2011

Swinging Abby Part 6: A Captive Audience

With all the newspaper coverage those first few days on the swing, it wasn't hard to keep the visitors coming and the signatures filling the log book at regular intervals. Just a quick glance at the first notebook and I count over 100 names over the course of a single day, and that was early on in the game.

With that many people coming and going each day, it was sometimes difficult to tell apart spectators from spectacle, and I was having as much fun watching the watchers as they were watching me. Especially when they came to entertain. From my mom's diary:
08/25: Abby was serenaded for over an hour last night, approx. 1:30am - 2:45am, by five prominent Sayre residents. See book and times for names.*
08/27: Today a young man was here and played guitar and sang for Abby.**
08/29: The Statesmen, a barbershop music group, were here tonight (about 25 men) and sang to Abby for about an hour. She really liked it.

I did. Here's a picture of the guys, and myself and Dad watching.

Abby and Bob Geiger.    The Statesmen's Choir   
Then there were the non-entertainers, but still visitors who shook things up and made the time pass more quickly. Groups of kids would come on bicycles to see how I was doing, play on the equipment, and generally make me laugh. Two friends from school twice rode their horses to come visit. Horses! Cousins enjoying the last couple weeks of summer would come and hang out, and relatives from as far away as Allentown PA came to see me and join in the general mayhem that was my home in the park.

Horseback and bicycle visitors.

Debbie, Sam and Scott stopping by to brighten my day.

Uncle Kenny Bryfogle

Great uncle Kenny Bryfogle, all the way from Allentown to the monkey-bars!

Late night visitors were some of the most important, when it was dark, quiet, and getting difficult to stay awake. A young man by the name of Dave often stopped by on his motorcycle well after midnight, which you must understand was unfathomably awesome to my teenage self, he being one of the nicest and most handsome guys in high school. Mentioned more than once in my memoirs, his visits were a sure-fire way to perk me up when the sandman was trying to topple me from my unstable perch. Additionally, complete strangers would visit before going to bed to see if there was anything I needed. I once asked for ice cream and found myself presented with a serving in a bowl as big as my head! All of these things, as well as my "Faithful Regulars"(more about them later) helped to break up the monotony of the sway and keep spirits up for everyone, which would become very important with the passing of that the first week, after which the real meaning of the word "endurance" would begin to rear its ugly head.
*If I'm reading the signatures correctly, they are: Tom Bernatavitz, Claude Altieri, Donald McCutcheon, Leo Wisniewski and Bob Lang.
**I believe the man's name was Kerry Hyatt, from Athens PA.

Swinging Abby Part 5: I'm Swiiinging in the Rain…Just Deeealing With the Pain!

A common question I'm asked whenever I mention my swinging saga is "Didn't your butt get sore?" While it's true that the majority of my time was spent sitting, oddly enough the answer to that question is "No". Really, it didn't. However, just about every other part of my body did. And as each new group of muscles protested, it created a dilemma that required a little creativity to solve.
The initial alteration to the swing was made the very first evening. While strap swings are comfortable for the normal amount of time one might enjoy swinging in them, they're decidedly not meant for the long haul. It took only a couple hours for me to discover that if something wasn't done quickly, my legs would never be useful as anything besides rather large, gangly appendages to keep my feet attached to my body. They ached so badly I could barely stand, much less walk, when my five-minute break rolled around. So my father, Bob, took a large piece of wood and jammed it between the chains, topped by two pieces of foam egg-crate packing, covered with a towel. Voilà: a cushioned seat that didn't compress my legs together, rendering them useless.
By day three a new problem presented itself. No, not blisters on my hands as I had feared. Rather, the insides of my elbows were black-n-blue all up and down the veins from holding onto the chains by simply wrapping my arms around them to keep from falling backwards.  So, out came the egg crate foam once more, wrapped around the chains and tied on with clothesline. Problem solved, Abby doesn't look like a heroin junkie anymore!
Unfortunately, my legs must have been feeling neglected because they came back to haunt me again. While I could now sit more comfortably, it was realized that the constant dangling was still making walking quite an endeavor whenever the swing stopped. Out came a piece of rope and a small board, creating a footrest (remember my remark about needing only a footstool? Well, there ya go!). Last but not least, a beach towel was tied between the chains to form a backrest. By day five my swing-contraption looked like this:

The Contraption

Comfy as a La-Z-Boy recliner!

La-Z-boy swing.

So with my enemy Pain soundly defeated, the next thing to endure was…Rain. And rain it did. Sometimes all day long, and despite the tarp-tent, it was often pretty miserable. My knees would get wet on the forward swing so I had to either cover them with the ever-present yellow raincoat (seen on the bench in the picture above) or swing lower, which I didn't like doing for fear of falling asleep (oh yes, more about that later). Additionally, the water would pool into small ponds beneath the tarp, making it difficult to get on or off the swing without getting my feet wet. During those two weeks I also weathered a major thunderstorm with high winds, making it nearly impossible to stay dry. I was just glad at some points that it didn't snow.
But no matter how bad it got, I refused to stop, and someone was always there with me. Even visitors came in the rain. Some even came to entertain! The moral support coming from all sides, friends, family and strangers alike was amazing. Next time, we'll take a look at some of the people who kept me going when the going got tough.

Swinging Abby Part 4: Home, Home on the Swing

Day three of the swinging saga proved to be a very busy one indeed. Besides the excitement of people bringing me newspapers to show me the articles that had been printed and various restaurants (McDonalds, Friant's, Pudgies and Park Bakery) offering in one fell swoop to completely undo my precious dieting efforts by offering fast-food heaven for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the park I had already come to think of as "home" was about to become so for real: a camper was being donated by Jim's Marine.
Yes, you read that right - a camper, for myself and my family to live in rather than waste valuable time driving to our home several miles away. And it had a toilet! You mean you didn't wonder yet where I was peeing all this time? Fortunately the Spencers, who lived across the street, had been letting me use their bathroom. It was convenient, but time consuming, even to be driven there during my breaks (because walking I was not so good at during this point in time) and I tell ya, you learn to pee REALLY FAST when every second counts! Well, none of that any more. Here's a picture of our temporary home-away-from-home. Note the sign leaning against it, just behind the bicycle - an advertisement for the business who donated.

Our cars and camper.

So now I had a place to potty and sleep just a few dozen yards from my swing. If only the weather would continue to cooperate all would be well. Honestly I had not given much thought as to what I would do if it rained. Use an umbrella? Wrap myself in plastic? Quit? When you're living in the strange reality of setting an endurance record, you don't think much about such things, just trying to make it from one five-minute break 'til the next. Here I am, doing just that on day three, swinging freely in the sun with my mom Carolyn (and apparently unable to flash a peace-sign with only one hand).

Mom and me.

But fortunately other people whose thoughts weren't so micro-focused did think about it, and shortly after the camper arrived, the second life-saver was donated by the Athens Volunteer Fire Department: a big green tarp tenting over the swing set to keep the rain off my parade. Here I am with Mom inside my little domain.

Swing tent.

At first it felt strange to be boxed in by a tarp. It was like swinging in a closet. I had to get used to my vision being so limited. If someone came in a car, I couldn't tell who it was until they were standing right in front of me. Eventually though, the tarp-covered swing became a small home. No wonder, I was in it often enough!
Whenever I remember this crazy two-week event, it's the view from inside my tent-home that I see. No, I couldn't swing as high as I had been, but that didn't matter so long as the swing was moving. What it really did was delineate where my space was and what was allowed to go on within it, something I didn't realize at first but which became very obvious as time went on and delirium set in. In the meantime, did it work? I got my answer that very evening when a storm moved in. I wrote:
About 1:00am I had the opportunity to see how well that tarp really worked: so-so was the answer. The water on the ground kept running in and forming a pond under me! The first experience of a rain storm was fun though. Something different, anyway.
Fun. That was a word to be used with caution. I would soon find out that many things about this endeavor were decidedly not going to be fun. I had already met my enemies Cold and Damp. The next two were just around the corner.

Swinging Abby Part 3: Fame and Freebies

There are some things for which you make plans then don't do, then there are things you do without a plan. How much planning is needed, after all, to sit on a swing? You just do it, right? Well, no you don't. But we didn't realize that when my teen angst-filled whines of "But you never let me do anything!" caused my mom to give into my crazy idea (or so she tells me - so now you know the rest of that story!) Fortunately, others did realize it. Especially once word got out.
And word got out pretty darn quickly. We had contacted one local newspaper, The Evening Times, the day I began (mainly to have an official witness) and in no time the battle among the press to get the scoop began. Next thing I know, I'm being interviewed by people from no less than three newspapers, with updates published almost daily. Here's the first two installments of the breaking news (they both kind of say the same thing so I won't repeat the text).

The Evening Times, front page August 22, 1979

The Evening Times Aug 22 1979

The Star Gazette, front page August 23, 1979

The Star Gazette Aug 23 1979

The effect was immediate. On day three, people began coming to the park in car-loads, and what had been a concern that there would not be enough witnesses to keep the log book properly updated turned into a concern that they would get tired of waiting in line and leave before signing. (While Guinness was then very tight-lipped about their requirements and would not send a representative, they did say we needed an ongoing record of witnesses. I racked up 2,493 signatures before it was over.)
Additionally, it seemed every business in town wanted to get in on the game by offering freebies. I would gain some new t-shirts and never have to worry where my next meal was coming from. Everyone wanted to be the first to feed me, and make sure the fact that they had done so was mentioned in my interviews.
So, the game was on. I was holding up well, still raring to go, and the entire Susquehanna Valley was rallying behind me. There was no turning back. But some of the biggest and best was yet to come!