6 Unexpected Things I Learned Setting A (Dumb) World Record
I grew up in the '80s and '90s, and during those formative years, I came to realize there are two things that make someone irrefutably cool. One, getting the laser background on school picture day. And two, being in the Guinness Book of World Records. Like many kids, I was fascinated by any Guinness World Record book that I came across. I read them cover to cover, memorizing facts and figures, thinking it was the epitome of fame.
In my adult life, I found that Photoshopping laser backgrounds isn't too hard, but that feeling about world records still scratched an itch in the back of my mind. The title of "World Record Holder" still seemed cool. So, in 2008, for no other real reason than that, I set the world record for the Most High Fives in 24 Hours.
And while having a world record for the Most High Fives In 24 Hours makes an amazing ice breaker, the process of setting one was generally a pain in the ass. It was expensive, I annoyed my friends to help me, and after I did it, I couldn't walk. That last part will make sense by the end, but one of the first things I learned in the process was ...
Setting A Record Is Either Expensive Or Can Be A Total Waste Of Time
More than a decade later, I would hope that the process of applying to set a world record has changed. But for me, it involved a $70 fax from a copy place in Cranston, RI, to the Guinness Records HQ in the UK. That was also where the weird looks and conversations began justifying my dumb, fun idea.
"Yes, I hope to set a world record. No, high fives don't have a special meaning to me. Yes, I agree it sounds stupid. That's what's fun about it. No, I don't need any printer toner."
After some amount of time, I was approved (by email, oddly enough) and offered two options for documentation.
Option A: You do it all yourself and document thoroughly. Take videos, get notarized witness statements from upstanding individuals in the community who witnessed you complete the record. Make a highlight reel. Take tons of pictures. Send it all away before a random deadline they set and hope it's enough to get the record.
Option B: An official Guinness Records judge will fly to NYC, where you then have to fly them to where the record is taking place, put them up in a hotel they approve of, try and set the record, and if all goes well -- that person hands you the certificate on the spot. You then fly them back to NYC.
I went with the "cheaper" Option A and proceeded to recruit a team of family and friends in my quest to complete a dumb thing for no reason. I'm happy to report my brain has been nice enough to eradicate the memory of what sending several pounds of carefully wrapped documentation overseas ended up costing. Which then leads to a long wait and the worry that ...
Fingers-Crossed: All Of Your Guesswork Is Enough For Them
I imagine most records are pretty clear-cut. Longest Fingernails? Measure and compare. Oldest Male Stripper? Check a birth certificate and get your singles ready. Most High Fives seems simple enough until you get into the rules that Guinness sent with their approval.
The most nebulous of them being "High fives are to be completed within the same area," and "All high fives must meet above the head." This, as you can imagine, sent me down a rabbit hole of definitions, debating semantics, and asking pretty much everyone I knew what they thought. What does "same area" mean? Same building? Same town? Same GPS Coordinates?
In the end, we settled on taping off a 4 "x5" rug that I wouldn't move from once the high fiving began. My friends and I also agreed that I should squat down to the head height of anyone shorter than me to make sure every high five met "above the head" (more on that a little later).
So, with some logistics worked out, it was up to finding a venue. And that ... well ... it turns out that ...
Not Having A Good Reason To Do A Fun Dumb Thing Is A Mixed Bag
You know some kids draw their dream home and put slides, zip lines, and fire poles everywhere? Well, I don't know a single adult with a zip line into their own personal candy mountain. The same sort of goes with world records. So many of us read the books as kids and wish we could set them, but so few actually do when they get older. You wouldn't believe all the dismissive laughter, weird looks, and condescending questions you get when telling people you're going for a world record because "It's kind of funny and cool, right?"
When some of your friends can't wrap their heads around an event that has no reason, you start to get nervous about finding a place that'll actually entertain the idea without calling the cops on you for, well, slapping their customers.
Strangely, this may have been the easiest bit of the whole ordeal, thanks to a family friend who put me in touch with The Dunkin' Donut Center in Providence, RI. They had recently renovated the sports arena and were planning a free "family day" of sorts so that people could see the new look.
I reached out, hoping to set up a table or something outside on that day and high five whoever I could. To my surprise, they offered me a spot as part of the event for free, which was a huge win. To this day, I think someone in charge there is a kindred spirit who thought a high five world record for no reason was just as fun as I did.
Their media team, on the other hand, was less enthused since I was a late addition to the event and had to be added to the program by a graphic designer probably annoyed with the last-minute change and with no information to go on. So, the program handed out to thousands of people that day read something along the lines of:
- Meet the Boston Celtic Cheerleaders and get autographs.
- Enter to win a Cardi's Furniture Shopping Spree
- Help Blake Set a Record for High Fives
That's it. No context. No mention of Guinness World Records. Not even my last name. Sure, I didn't have a good reason to set a world record, but I at least have a last name. Speaking of getting your name in print ...
News Outlets Don't Really Know How To Report On Fun Dumb Things
I'll chalk it up to slow news days, but for whatever reason, the local news didn't wholeheartedly dismiss me when I approached them about what I was doing. In retrospect, I definitely should have partnered with a charity to raise money or collected canned goods for the needy, but as you've probably already gathered, this was all pretty slapdash.
Now, I can't blame newspapers for trying to find an angle because that's their job. Make the news compelling. I just wasn't really news. One reporter kept asking for some motivation other than "for funsies," and I honestly had nothing for him.
That wasn't good enough for him, and his solution turned out to be my absolute favorite thing to come out of all this. Part of the piece read something like this:
"Blake Rodgers (of Cranston) was determined to set the record for high fives after his wife & children told him repeatedly that there was no way he could get it done."
Honest mistake, as I've never been married and don't have kids. But that means people in my hometown learned two new things about me that day.
1. I'm going for a world record in high fives.
2. My motivation to set a truly dumb world record was to prove something to an unsupportive family who thought I was a total piece of shit.
I love it so much that I'll have it framed next to the record if I can ever find it in print again.
Well, I showed my non-existent wife and kids who the man of our non-existent house was because I did, in fact, set the world record for most high fives in 24 hours by high fiving 3,131 people in the span of about six hours. The record has since been blown out of the water, but with that modest 3,131, the most common question I get about it is "Did your hand hurt?" which leads me to ...
Your Hand Hurts But Your Legs Hurt More
I expected my hand to swell a bit, which it most certainly did, but what was extra weird was that hand sanitizer just stopped absorbing into my skin. After a while, my hand was like those videos of ketchup bottles with the special coating.
The most unexpected part of the whole ordeal came from my choice to ensure that "high fives must meet above the head." I'm six feet tall, and a quick check on Google places the average height for men in the US at 5' 9", women at 5' 4", and have you ever noticed that kids' heights are just all over the place?
So I squatted down to eye level for anyone shorter than me, which included a lot of kids. After all, a kid sees a world record being set, and they want to be a part of it because they're the ones currently obsessed with the books. So, after 3,131 high fives in about 6 hours, with most being shorter than me, roughly half the high fives being from kids meant an unexpected leg day for me. You can probably guess that 1,500 squats in that amount of time isn't the best idea.
I set a world record for high fives for no reason, and the result was painfully toddling around for about a week after, but ultimately ...
Despite My Whining, It's Still Really Cool To Have A World Record
I didn't know what to expect that day, but it turned out great. A good group of friends helped me out by setting up, counting along, and witnessing the attempt. I didn't have to take a bathroom break, which was something I was very worried would nullify the "same space" rule. And there were only -- dare I say -- a handful of jerks who thought it'd be funny to high five me as hard as they could.
Since 2008, my record has been beaten a number of times, and I'm pretty sure someone had already beaten mine while my certificate was in the mail. To my knowledge, though, I was the first to officially set the record (cue internet probably proving me wrong), and I'll always have that certificate on my wall, and it's always a fantastic conversation starter.
Plus, should my non-existent kids ever actually come into existence, I'd like to think they'll be proud of their dad for setting a world record. Maybe they'll even cut me some slack when I refuse to pay extra for laser backgrounds on their school pictures.
Blake Rodgers is originally from Rhode Island but lives in Chicago. He occasionally writes for a handful of websites but now mostly throws axes for a living, which is a statement that never gets any less weird. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheBlakeRodgers.