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December 2011

Swinging Abby Part 14: Guinness Speaks

I always find it funny that when telling this story to people, the first question they ask is not usually the obvious one: did you make it into the Guinness Book of World Records? Well, that's ok because that's only a yes or no answer, and it's the rest of the story that's the fun part to talk about. But since getting my name immortalized in the famous book was the whole reason for the endeavor, the question has to be answered. And the answer is:
No. I didn't.
Remember back when I said Guinness would not send people to verify the record or even give any advice as to what was required and how to go about it? Well, that all came back to haunt me once I was getting towards the end of the whole thing. I don't have any notes or memory of how we discovered that my attempt was likely to be doomed before I even finished, but there are newspaper articles that allude to there being trepidation at "Camp Geiger" that Guinness would reject the record. In the end, they did.

Guinness says "nope!"
Nope, uh-uh, no way José!
(Click on the article and then the expansion "x" in the lower right for readability size.)

So basically, my attempt ended the very first day when I, limped off the swing and took a few hours of shut-eye. But that begs the question: how did the previous record-setters do it? As I remember, the record I based my sleep breaks on was set by a single woman in the early 70s, clocking in at (if I remember correctly - unfortunately I no longer have the book) around 123 hours over the course of several days. When I did the math, this left her with extra time beyond hourly five minute breaks, which I assumed was spent sleeping. The then-current record I was actually trying to beat in 1979 was set by two people at 182 hours. The official entry in the 1979 Guinness book is, in its entirety:
"The record duration for continuous swinging is 182 hours by Pia Anderson and Matt Gonzalez of Torrence, CA on December 16 - 24 , 1977."
Not knowing their exact starting and finishing times, the math on their attempt does work out, giving over three minutes per hour of time off the swing. That's it, that's all. So... did they take turns? Sleep while someone pushed them? Would that not defeat the purpose? Would you not only be breaking a record for swinging but also for sleeplessness?
The most interesting thing I've found out in my research for this blog is that apparently, something changed at Guinness at some point between 1977 and now with regards to this record. What's the current swinging record?

Thirty-one hours.

Yes, you read that correctly. 31. Three-plus-one. Check it out, it's right here online at Guinness World Records The current swinging record was set by two men in Toronto - Adam Wiseman and Michael Kurtz - in August 2008 (on my birthday, no less!) as a charity fund-raising event to supply low-income families with playground equipment. You can read about it here at the Better Day Alliance entry called The Big Swing , as well as see a video of them hopping on the swings to begin. (As a side note - notice on the Guinness site that you must now apply to set a record, you receive the guidelines from Guinness, and there's a very helpful FAQ available right there on their web site. What I wouldn't have given for such access to info in 1979. Welcome to the age of the internet!)
Adam Wiseman was kind enough to tell me about their endeavor, and said that the same old rules applied to their record attempt as the one set in 1977 (and mine as well, as we found out): no breaks beyond a five minute rest per every 60 minutes. You can take them or you can save them up, but that's all you get. A medical person was also required to be present at all times, as well as two witnesses present in rotating shifts continuously throughout the event, who had to sign a log verifying they were there at the end of each shift. Additionally, the whole thing had to be recorded on video. Adam says it wasn't the most pleasant thing he's ever done and would never do it again, but besides getting the record they did raise money for a good cause. If they never got around to wedging a board and some padding onto those strap-swings, I can totally relate to the unpleasantness, and I give a huge "Bravo!" to them both for their gumption and stamina!
So, without an answer as to why the record dropped from 182 hours to 31 (I wrote to the email address on that Guinness site and have gotten no response), I can only speculate as to why that happened. And my speculation is that someone asked the same questions as I did a few paragraphs above. If you can't sleep, how can you stay awake for 182 hours? If you sleep and someone pushes you, then you're not doing the swinging. And if you take turns, you're not doing an endurance record, you're just keeping the swing moving (rather like the bicycling record my grandfather participated in). I think what it came down to is provability. You now have to videotape the entire thing, something we could have done in the 70s but with much less ease than today. If it ain't on film, it don't count. Mine ain't on film. Neither, I assume, is Pia's and Matt's. The current record is, so there is no question these two guys did it.
Anyway, back to my attempt and the fallout. My mom did send an appeal to Guinness upon receiving the rejection letter (which oddly enough, I no longer have) asking them to perhaps consider a "Junior's Division" for records, as I was a minor. Alas, they did not agree and without a way to resolve the sleeping problem, I never did make another attempt, although I thought about it around the 20-year anniversary. But I was alone in Phoenix Arizona, in August when it's stupidcrazy hot so yeah...that didn't happen.
So. I had failed. Or had I?

I didn't get into the book. So what? It's not like I'd be able to walk around with a big sign saying "Hey, I'm in the Guinness Book of World Records!" if I'd made it, and as you can see, by now it all would have been for naught. No, I think that in the end what I got was better: a truly unique experience that not many people can say they've lived through. I wouldn't trade those two weeks of my life for anything. You know what they say about a long trip, that "getting there is half the fun". Well, when trying to break a record, just doing it is ALL of the fun!
And telling the story all these years later is an added smile. I hope I've been able to give you a few as well!

See you at the swing set!

Swinging Abby Part 13: Mystery of the Missing Swing

So somebody stole my swing. There was now a big gap on the right-hand side of the swing set (or the left, depending on which side you considered to be the front). Where did it go? Did anyone know?
I did.
The swing had not gone far, actually, and its whereabouts remained unknown only for a few days until its disappearance ended up in the papers.

A thief in the family!
Yes, call me an accomplice, I think I held the ladder. Muuuwaaa-ha-haha!....

While the swing never did hang in the stairway, it did grace our garage for a short time. In the meantime, although no police report was ever filed, my father HAD actually stolen a piece of city property, and something had to be done about it.

Mine mine mine!
Mine! Mine mine mine, all mine.

I still remember that meeting, my first time in a big boardroom, sitting on the right-hand side of the big, shiny desk. Everyone there pitched in a few dollars to pay for the swing. It was mine to keep. It was eventually packed away in a box and kept in our garage. I would post a picture of it except…
It's gone missing.
I can't recall exactly when was the last time I ever saw it, but I do remember it seemed a tired little mess of black rubber and chains, the protective foam shrunken, dried out and brittle with age. I don't have it in my house, and neither do my parents have it in theirs. None of us would ever have just thrown it away. However, we've pieced together a hypothesis as to its fate that I think makes sense: at some point I may have given it back to the city of Athens. Probably around the time I moved to Arizona, when space was at a premium and life had moved on to different things where swinging mementos did not seem so important. When my parents also pulled up stakes to go west, The Sign was left behind for me to reclaim all these years later. But the swing itself had already moved on, a victim of one of those choices one makes which seems ok at the time, but later you go "Why the hell did I do that?!?" Perhaps one day we'll find the wooden board used as a footrest or the towel tied as a back support - because even if I gave the swing back, I'm sure we would've kept SOMETHING from it. But right now the only thing I have of it is pictures and memories. It's ok. When you're physically attached to something as long as I was to that swing, you never forget what it looked and felt like. Never.
And when's the last time I actually sat on a big ol' strap swing and flew through the air you ask? Do I avoid it like the plague? Actually, no, it's just difficult to do these days because, as they say "they don't make 'em like they used to". I know the last time was probably 'round about 2005 or 2006. Next to our duplex in Montreal was a public park that had an identical big, tall metal swing set. I remember spending about 20 minutes on it one day, recalling all of this. Then I had to get off, because for the first time ever in my life I was getting seasick! I haven't had an opportunity since then. That park has since been renovated, and the swings are all of the shorter variety now, which seems to be a trend in playgrounds, I've noticed. Probably for safety reasons, but I find it somewhat sad that kids don't know the thrill of swinging as high as the trees. Even if I still had my swing, there is nowhere even in a public park I could hang it and enjoy that feeling. If I ever pass by a park that has such a swingset - tall and majestic, where one feels like they're flying as they try to get even with the top bar, I'll stop and swing. You can count on it.
So! With that little Scooby-Doo mystery solved, there's only one more question to be answered. You know what it is. Come back next week for the last installment of the Swinging Abby Saga!