Incredible Athletic Feats (Hart Publishing Company, $5.95) is an illustrated compilation of my childhood fantasies—and those of most any other boy. As such, it is partly Believe It Or Not, partly Super-boy and partly a textbook on abnormal psychology.
Jim Benagh, who put the thing together, swears to the validity of the 125 feats he describes. And although some of the accomplishments boggle the mind, I accept them all. There is, after all, no undertaking so absurd that someone, somewhere, won't attempt it. In fact, as I made my way, popeyed, through the pages, I realized what a fine line separates those boobs who are properly hatched and those who run around loose, setting records.
Some of the accomplishments noted are legitimate enough—such as DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak and Jesse Owens' fabulous hour on a day in 1935 when he broke three world records and tied another. But there are many other record breakers about whose motives and mental health you have to wonder. For instance, in 1896 a couple of clucks named Harbo and Samuelson rowed a boat across the Atlantic. Why? Because it was there?
And how about the unforgettable Mensen Ernst? He woke up one morning in Constantinople and decided it was a nice day for a walk. So, naturally, he walked to Calcutta, some 2,800 miles away. No sooner did he reach his destination than he turned around and walked home.
If you decide you'd like to be shot out of a cannon, be warned the record already stands at 200 feet. Care to cross the U.S.A., riding an 8½-foot-high unicycle? If you can't break 117 days, forget it.
The most curious achievement in the book is attributed to Noah Young, who once ran the mile in 8½ minutes, carrying a 150-pound man on his back. Here, as in his recounting of other feats, Benagh regrettably leaves the most arresting questions unanswered. Did Young know the fellow on his back? How did they get together? Did the man approach Young and request a piggyback ride or did Young, overcome one day by a strange compulsion, sidle up to a complete stranger and offer to trot him around the track?
I admire Mr. Benagh's attempt to be democratic. There is hardly a field of human endeavor he hasn't managed to shoehorn into his book. He even has potato-sack contests and life-raft survivals. Had he been only slightly more diligent, however, I can't help feeling he would have found space for my own singularly incredible athletic feat. I once went two weeks without smoking—and never mentioned it to anyone.