Standing up for a cause can be difficult, but sitting down for one can be just as hard.
As a fund-raising effort for the Easter Seals Campaign, more than 700 employes of Washington area Safeway stores took to the stands at RFK Stadium yesterday, plopping and jerking themselves from seat to seat, sitting in as many seats as they could during the seven-hour event. The reward: the glory of setting a world seat-sitting record and getting their name in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Contestants collected pledges of 10 cents a squat or more from friends and relatives hoping not only to establish a record -- apparently one does not exist -- but also to raise money for physically handicapped children and adults.
As in any competition, there were rules. "Your back must rest against the back of the chair and you must sit in each chair with your full body weight," an official explained to the contestants before the competition began.
Monitors watched as participants repeatedly moved through each seat of their assigned section. The competition started about 9:30 a.m. and ended at about 4 p.m., with 15-minute breaks every hour.
In the opening minutes, the competition was furious, with staccato "kerplunks" resounding through the stadium as backs slapped hard against the orange plastic seats.
"You need good knees for this and a nice flabby butt," said Michelle Riley, 23, of Burke, who claimed that she entered the competition to lose weight. "I don't have good knees."
With the sun poking through the clouds and temperatures rising, people began shedding jackets and coats, many of them dripping with sweat as they moved from seat to seat.
For some the competition turned into a religious experience.
"Oh yeah, oh Lord!" Greg Tigner, 36, said, reveling aloud, as he dumped himself into each seat and gathered his strength for another effort. Tigner's wife, unimpressed by her husband's actions, sat several rows behind him in the stands.
"I went and got him a soda. At this rate I don't think he's going to win," she said laughing.
Even Safeway officials, who feared that the event might be canceled because of a snowstorm the night before, admitted that a "sit-a-thon" was an unusual way to raise money.
"Isn't this bizzare?" said organizer Luanne Hege, who estimated that the record seekers raised about $78,000 for the charity.
"I think this is the most wonderful, crazy thing I've seen in my life," said Nancy Marconi, executive director of the Washington area Easter Seal Campaign.
Safeway truck driver Eddie Roberts, one of the early leaders with 960 seats within the first half-hour, was a picture of determination as he swung mechanically, using the metal armrests for momentum.
And then there was the guy in the gorilla suit.
One Arlington Safeway employe came in a rented ape suit, work boots and a cap. "Let's see, I'm 36 years old, so that makes me about 114 in gorilla years. I know I couldn't go the distance, so I thought I'd put some fun in it. I'd feel kind of silly if they knew who I was," he said.
Strategy was critical, and some resorted to "reverse psychology," faking out opponents by feigning fatigue and then finishing each row with an unexpected flourish. Others resorted to outlandish garb for inspiration.
Chris Atchison, 19, a clerk in the Bladensburg store, wore jeans, a T-shirt, black, white and red basketball shoes, and the loudest pair of lime-green sweat socks she could find. "If I look down at my socks, hopefully it will wake me up." She added, however, that her socks were not the only preparation for the event.
"My butt doesn't hurt yet cause I stuffed it with Safeway bags," she said, pointing to a thick bundle of plastic bags secured to her waist.
In the end two winners were chosen, by the seat of their pants.
Michael Bennett, 26, a stock clerk in an Easton, Md., Safeway, sat in 13,750 seats and raised $630; Jane Zinkhan a cashier in the Phoenix, Md., store, claimed 10,134 seats, raising about $445, competition officials said.
Bennett said he planned to reward his record-setting posterior with a hot bath. "I'm not a natural-born athlete, I'm just quick," he said reflecting on his victory. "I would have to say, you should get in shape beforehand, but I didn't get to bed until 1 o'clock last night."