As 8-year-old Molly Vergin was preparing to try to break the world record for the most high-fives in one minute, no one was concerned about the magnitude of the challenge: needing to complete 261 hand slaps in 60 seconds.
For her parents, the memories of Molly struggling against the debilitating effects of her leukemia chemotherapy were still too fresh. It wasn’t all that long ago that she couldn’t walk without assistance. That she was about to sprint across a parking lot high-fiving volunteers was reason alone to celebrate.
“It doesn’t matter,” Stephanie Vergin said of the record. “For a long time, she didn’t have the strength or energy for something like this. The fact that she’s out here running is exciting enough.”
Mike Vergin gave his daughter a pep talk in which he emphasized that philosophy. “Whatever happens, you’ll have fun,” he told her.
Molly wasn’t worried about setting the record, but for a different reason: In her mind, there was no doubt that she would succeed.
Even when a practice run came up woefully short, she remained confident. She hadn’t gone full speed, concentrating on her hand-slapping technique instead of foot speed.
The organizer of the event, Andrew MacGuffie, wasn’t sweating the record, either. For him, the main focus was on using the occasion to raise money for the Cancer Kids Fund.
“We’ll see how it goes,” he said casually of Molly’s attempt, which was followed by a raffle in which the prize was a coffee table made by MacGuffie, a sculptor based in Scandia, Minn.
When the time for the record-setting attempt came, the volunteers arranged themselves in a tight line that stretched across the parking lot at Silverwood Park in St. Anthony. After a quick countdown, Molly exploded off the starting line like an Olympic sprinter and raced along the queue of hand-extending volunteers. A stopwatch-carrying MacGuffie ran a couple of steps behind her, calling out the elapsed time in 15-second intervals.
Sixty seconds later, it was official: Molly not only set a world record, but shattered the old one. She amassed 287 high-fives — 26 more than needed — and could have gotten even more. She ran out of hands to slap before she ran out of time.
“It was kind of hard,” she finally admitted after the fact. “I had to make sure that I hit everyone’s hand, and they were at different heights.”
But was her dad right? Was it fun?
“A lot of fun,” she said.
National High Five Day
Three years ago, MacGuffie made a 15-foot-high steel number 5 that stands near the pavilion at Silverwood Park.
Last year, while searching for a way to show support for close friend Michael Thornton, whose 11-year-old son, Evan, was battling cancer, he stumbled on the discovery that the third Thursday in April is designated as National High Five Day. That’s when he came up with an idea: to base a fundraiser for cancer research on an attempt to set a record in high-fiving while using his “5” sculpture as a backdrop.
Evan was the designated high-fiver last April. He was ailing — he died five months later — but he still managed to amass 220 high-fives. And he established a tradition.
“We had a super good time,” said MacGuffie, who vows to keep holding the annual event “until we wear out our welcome” at the park.
Michael Thornton was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of this year’s event. Realizing that more hands were needed to reach the necessary mark, he shanghaied joggers, hikers and dog-walkers who were passing through the park and marshaled them into the volunteer line. Then, still wanting more, he went into the pavilion and talked the people who were eating at the snack bar into leaving their coffee and chocolate chip cookies on the table while they offered a helping hand — literally, in this case.
“Get on the phone, call your friends and tell them to come out and help Molly,” he implored the gathering.
Besides helping Molly, he also was doing it as a way of remembering Evan. Thornton, who lives in Minneapolis, said that some of his friends had asked him why he was so eager to help Molly beat the mark set last year by Evan. He told them that the issue was a lot bigger than that.
“This is for all kids who battle cancer,” he said. “This was a wonderful experience for Evan. It was something he talked about nonstop.” Choking up, he paused for a moment to compose himself, before adding: “I want that for Molly, too.”
The Vergins, who live in White Bear Lake, were touched by his attitude but not surprised by it.
“One of the things we found in the midst of this struggle [with Molly’s leukemia] was an incredibly kind and helpful community of parents of children with cancer,” Stephanie Vergin said.
Mike Vergin — who sold more than $1,000 worth of raffle tickets, many of them to his fellow teachers at Mounds Park Academy in Maplewood — seconded that. Raising money for research “is just a little way we can give back to the people who have helped us so much,” he said.
MacGuffie shrugged off his contribution to the cause, which included the table he made and the time he spent organizing the event. “It’s what life is about,” he said.
Record keeping for record
Molly’s record will be submitted to Guinness World Records. In order to have it certified, MacGuffie had to fill out a ream of paperwork and then make sure everything that happened was documented, including numbering each volunteer’s hand and recording Molly’s dash on a GoPro camera.
For Molly, the record is the payoff at the end of a long, arduous trek. Her leukemia is in remission, but it took more than two years from her diagnosis in January 2013 to get there.
“All she could do before was lie on the couch,” Stephanie Vergin said of the 16-month chemotherapy. “She has energy again, her hair grew back and her last physical therapy session is May 6. It’s almost over.”
Her setting the record should buoy the spirits of everyone who’s known a child with cancer, Thornton said.
“To see a little one doing as well as Molly, we’re all excited about that,” he said.