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Official hula hoop marathon rule number one: The record is for continuous revolution of a hula hoop.
Aaron Hibbs works as a janitor. He grew up in Sandusky, Ohio, loves lasagna, studied etymology, and hula hoops. Sometimes for hours, sometimes until his legs swell up, sometimes until he can’t remember if he is shifting from right to left or left to right. When Aaron gets to that point, when he’s held his arms above his waist for so long he feels like maybe they are wings, he remembers Mary.
Rule seven: Once the hoop has begun to spin the hands of the competitor must not touch the hoop. If the challenger touches the hoop, the attempt is ended.
Mary Jane Freeze, who in 1976 hula hooped for 10 hours and 47 minutes and set the first world record for hula. She was eight years old. It was summer, late August. Aaron imagines her brown hair whipping her face as her hips circle and circle. He thinks of her blowing flavorless bubble gum bubbles long after all the other children have gone home.
Rule eight states: Rest breaks of 5 minutes per hour are allowed.
Mary’s record has long been broken. Aaron must hula hoop for more than 72 hours. He doesn’t eat. He doesn’t sleep. He wears a catheter. The team he has assembled makes sure he stays awake, makes sure he doesn’t touch the hoop or drop it below his knees. He watches TV He listens to music. Reporters stop by and he tells them that he hula hoops to inspire others to do something special in their lives.
Rules four and six: If the hoop passes above the shoulders, the attempt is ended; If the hoop passes below the knees, the attempt is ended.
By the third day, most of the crowd has gone home. A guy in the corner is reading a book. Aaron’s feet are swollen. When he looks down at them they are no longer feet, but goat hooves. His hands have grown large, pulsing like a man in a cartoon, so he puts them on top of his head to keep their awkward bulk away from the hoop. And that is when he falters. It is hour 59.
Rule five: If the hoop passes below the hips the competitor has 30 seconds in which to recover it.
“Poor guy just dropped the hoop,” is how it gets reported. Aaron lies on the floor. Someone announces that he will try again later. And he will try again, a year later, and that time he will break the record, hooping for 75 hours straight. He will be featured in the local paper and on hooping.org. He will send the results to Guinness.
Rule eleven: A fully-qualified practicing member of the medical profession must be present at all times watching the attempt.
But for now, his hands are simply shrinking against the cool tile and when he tilts his head, he sees Mary. She is dressed in yellow shorts, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, her shoes white canvas, just as she would have been in 1976 when she was a child and he, he was about to be born into a working class neighborhood in Northern Ohio where one summer he spent each afternoon riding his bike around and around his parents’ driveway, making tighter and tighter circles, balanced on a magic edge, until his father came with the car and asked if he’d gone mad. He wonders if he hula hoops because he’s an idiot, rocking himself back and forth to sooth his nerves, or rather if it is just for the pleasure of it, like a child, rocking back and forth because of the way the room moves slightly when you do.