As a kid growing up in Akron, Ohio, Frank Kasell was obsessed with “The Guinness Book of World Records.” Never much of an athlete, Kasell was intrigued by the idea of being the best in some category, however obscure, and dreamed of one day setting his own world record.
“As a first or second grader, I just assumed I would be the tallest person in the world because I was the tallest person in my class,” Kasell, a 30-year-old writer and English Language Officer for the State Department, told me.
While Kasell doesn’t even approach fellow Akronite LeBron James’ height today, he set a world record at the Lee High School track in Springfield on July 5 by walking 114.8 meters with a 17-pound push lawn mower balanced on his chin. (It will take 12 weeks for Guinness officials to review video and two witness testimonies from Kasell’s attempt to officially validate the new mark.)
“Whether Guinness accepts it or not, I think everybody has these little goals for themselves,” Kasell said. “It’s so easy for them to remain in the realm of things you’d like to do, but you can do anything. Most of the time you just don’t get around to doing them.”
Kasell had attempted to set a Guinness record before. As a student at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin, he belonged to an organization that raised money for schools in Zambia. For a fundraiser in 2004, Kasell attempted the record for most milk crates balanced on his chin, with supporters pledging a certain dollar amount per crate or length of balancing time. The fundraiser was a success, but Kasell came a few crates short of Guinness status.
Kasell spent some time in China after college, which later inspired him to write a travel guide to Chinese street food. He lived in D.C. for five years until last August before relocating to Pittsboro, North Carolina. Setting a Guinness World Record has always been in the back of his mind, and after his father was recently diagnosed with a terminal disease, he had extra motivation to try again.
Kasell began researching records several months ago, looking for ones that suited his above-average ability to balance things on his chin, a talent he discovered as a kid.
The lawn mower balancing record seemed doable, and had some added significance. The old record of 100 meters was set by Ashrita Furman, who owns the Guinness World Record for holding the most Guinness World Records at one time.
“If I was going to break anyone’s record, I figured it would be cool for it to be him,” Kasell said.
Kasell’s decision to attempt the record in Virginia was a matter of practicality. The push lawn mower he owns in Pittsboro has a Y-shaped handle, making it impossible to balance on his chin. His father-in-law in Springfield had a lawn mower with a straight bar handle.
Kasell’s wife, Leslie, sister, and two independent witnesses, including Potomac Valley Track Club secretary Jay Jacob Wind, were among those who gathered to document his achievement and provide support on the day of his record-setting attempt. Attempts, rather.
“It took a while to try to get a groove for what worked and what didn’t,” said Kasell, who wore flip-flops, a Hawaiian-print shirt and khaki shorts. “The first couple of times, my face was a little sweaty. Then I kept veering off into the grass.”
On one of his final attempts, Kasell walked 95 meters, just five meters short of the record. He said he felt his fingers start to tingle, probably as a result of the pinching effect balancing the lawn mower had on his neck, and considered trying again another day.
Kasell set the record on what he decided beforehand would be his final attempt. It took him roughly two-and-a-half minutes to walk 115 meters.
“It’s obviously a very specific thing, but it’s fun to know that I am the best at that one thing,” Kasell said. “Any time you can accomplish something that you thought about for a really long time, it’s a good feeling. Now it’s done and I’m glad.”