In my job as a sports reporter, I’ve met a few world record holders. I was once at a press conference where legendary distance runner Haile Gebrselassie was asked how many world records he had broken.
“Ah, it’s 18 or 17,” Gebrselassie said. “I don’t know exactly.”
That was 2004. The current count of world records broken by Gebreselassie is 27.
For the most part, I don’t have a lot in common with world record holders. But, Jack — I get Jack. That’s because five days a week he sits just 15 yards down the hall from me. He’s a midday news anchor and reporter at the radio station where Only A Game is produced.
But for eight weekends every fall, Jack Lepiarz sounds a little, well, different.
I only wanted to learn the cool skills, like a 7 year old would, obviously.
“Bonjour, my name is Jacques Ze Whipper,” Jack tells audiences at King Richard’s Faire — the longest running Renaissance fair in New England.
Jack’s not French. But he did grow up in the circus. No, really. Jack’s dad was in the Big Apple Circus until Jack was 6, and then his dad went to work on the Renaissance fair circuit. That’s where Jack learned non-radio skills, like wire walking and juggling — though his dad always told him not to focus on juggling.
“I only wanted to learn the cool skills, like a 7 year old would, obviously,” Jack said.
So, 7-year-old Jack learned how to crack a whip. He also learned how to throw knives. When he grew up, he became one of about 200 performers at King Richard’s. A few years ago, Jack was brainstorming ways to publicize his show. And he noticed that there were a whole lot of Guinness World Records related to something he’d been able to do since he was 7.
“There are records like most whip cracks in a minute with two whips,” Jack said, “most whip cracks in a minute with a stock whip, most soda cans cut in half with a whip in one minute — think it’s 23.”
Real world record holders — no offense to the folks in the Guinness book — are incredibly fast or incredibly strong or incredibly good at something that lots of other athletes are trying to be fast, strong or good at. But the Guinness Book of World records was created in 1951 by the chairman of the Guinness brewery, in part, so that beer lovers could settle the inevitable arguments that come up in bars. And so some of the 40,000 records tracked by Guinness are a bit more…unusual.
“I mean some of them are like most sticky notes stuck to your face in one minute,” Jack said.
And so, last Saturday afternoon, I found myself in Carver, Massachusetts, 50 miles south of Boston, sitting in the front row while Jack, dressed like a swashbuckler, played musical whips.
Jack didn’t just sing and crack the whip. He also explained how a whip cracks in the first place.
It turns out, a bullwhip, when cracked, travels faster than 761 miles an hour. At that speed, the whip breaks the sound barrier and creates a small sonic boom.
After the show, Jack assembled the witnesses and timekeepers for the attempt: most whip cracks with one hand in 60 seconds. Together they poured over the incredibly specific instructions sent by Guinness. The whole thing would be recorded and sent for validation.
Benjamin Reynolds, a self-described professional whip artist, had an important job to do. But he wasn’t nervous.
“No,” Reynolds quipped. “I can count.”
Reynolds would need to count higher than 257 if Jack broke the record.
Julia Jerome, who went to college with Jack, was there to cheer. Or, maybe, not cheer — because any crack not audible on the video wouldn’t count.
“I think I will personally be holding my breath, “she said.
Jack entered the jousting arena at the behest of King Richard — a white-bearded man in flowing red robes. After the witnesses measured the whip, Jack faced the king and started cracking.
Jack wasn’t swinging the whip around like Indiana Jones. He held it out in front of him and flicked it from left to right, so that it cracked on both ends. It took enormous effort, and he was breathless after his first attempt. But he was sure he could do better. After a quick swig of Gatorade from a leather mug, he tried again.
But, this time, the whip got all tangled up. There was supposed to be time for a third attempt, but Tina, the fair’s stage manager, was anxious to get the evening joust started.
I was escorted off in one direction, and Jack and the witnesses headed out the other gate, which meant I had to wait to learn the result.
A half hour later, I was joined by a standing room only crowd at Jack’s next show. He addressed the audience and explained that he probably broke the record but maybe only by one crack.
“But I don’t trust Guinness,” Jack said, “so we’re going to do this one more time in case they say one crack was too light.”
Actually, Jack tried three more times. By his fifth attempt of the day, a little of the excitement had worn off.
Once again, the whip was measured, the timers timed, the counters counted and Jack kept cracking. When it was all done, the witnesses conferred and gave a thumbs up.
The final count was 260, just three more than the current World Record and far fewer than Jack had pulled off in practice.
“I feel great. I’m still terrified, though.” Jack said. “Because like maybe one crack didn’t count or anything like that. But I’m just so happy. We spent eight weeks working on this so to finally have this done with, it’s a huge weight off my shoulders.”
But four days later, that weight was right back on Jack’s shoulders. He stopped by my desk to let me know that he’s going to try one more time. He doesn’t want to make it too easy for the current world record holder to top him, and he’s sure he can do better. Once the fair closes for the season, he’ll reassemble his witnesses in a nearby park and begin again, without as much as a “by your leave” from the King.