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‘Record holder’ will have nice ring to it after 60-hour shift

Steve Batzka will never make it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

If he’d decided to try to set a record for peeling the most hard-boiled eggs in 24 hours he might have had a chance, but setting the record for continuously ringing a bell at one of those Salvation Army kettles just doesn’t seem to stir up that much excitement.

Batzka doesn’t seem to care. He’s been a volunteer bell ringer since he was a freshman at Homestead High School, and as long as the Salvation Army recognizes the record, he’s happy.

If you’re going to try to set a record by ringing a bell for more than 60 hours straight, though, you’ve got to have rules.

There is no sitting down.

There is no eating while you’re ringing the bell. You can do that during the five-minute break you get every hour.

The bell must be rung continuously whether there is anybody there to hear it or not.

There must be witnesses to verify that he actually accomplished the feat.

All the rules seem to take the fun out of trying to set the record, but when you stop to think about it, this bell-ringing endeavor can quickly cease to be much fun at all.

Going 60 hours without sleep is, in itself, quite a trick. Batzka says he’s gone two days without sleep in the past while he was in school, but 60 hours is a lot more than two days.

Standing for 60 hours is another trick. The human body was not meant to do that. I wonder what Batzka’s legs and feet are going to feel like when he’s finished.

But he’s only 21. Maybe his legs will hold out.

Wednesday morning I dropped by the Kroger store at the Village of Coventry, where Batzka is trying to set the record. There was a white board beside him that listed how long he had been there. It said he was in his 22nd hour. A woman who had apparently visited the store Tuesday walked by and said, “I can’t believe you’re still here.”

By that time, Batzka was one-third of the way to his goal. The rest would be downhill, he said.

Or maybe not. Around the country, seven other people are trying to set the same record, and after 24 hours, two had already given up.

Batzka’s father, Mike, showed up, wearing two ticking stopwatches that timed his son. He was one of the witnesses needed to verify that his son was actually there, ringing the bell. Mike Batzka has never rung a Salvation Army bell, he said. No one in the family had ever done it, except for Steve.

So Steve Batzka rang away, making up for the rest of his family, never stopping except for one moment when he dropped the bell.

There’s a technique to ringing the bell, he said. If you ring it from your wrist, eventually you won’t be able to move your wrist at all, Batska said, so he flexes his arm slightly, jiggling the bell and making it ring.

Batzka said a friend calculated that by the time he was finished, he will have rung the bell 1.2 million times.

Many Salvation Army bell ringers volunteer for a two-hour shift during the season and then they’re done. They don’t do it day after day.

So if Batzka is able to hang on and finishes his marathon ringing session, by sometime early Friday, he will have rung the bell as much as some volunteers do over the course of 30 years.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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