In 1971, I joined the Army at the age of 17. After basic training, I was sent to Heidelberg, Germany, and then to Asmara, Ethiopia (now Eritrea). At the time, this was a U.S. military communications station in the shoehorn of northeast Africa.
We were restricted to the base most of the time because of local civil unrest, and there was not much to do.
My mom sent me an article from a stateside newspaper about two teens who had set a Guinness world record playing table tennis for 35 consecutive hours. I didn’t think this was unbeatable. I also thought setting a new record would be a great morale booster for our small Army hospital.
I persuaded a co-worker to be my partner, and weeks later we broke the record by playing for 40 consecutive hours. But after only a few months of local fame, we were stunned to learn the record had been broken again and reset at 50 hours.
With a promise from our company commander to give us three days off and $100 in prize money, my partner and I agreed to go for a record we thought would stand for some time. A month later a large medical storehouse was emptied and arrangements were made for us to play for 100 consecutive hours. We agreed not to use any drugs or supplements to assist us.
The local nurses set up a large swing by the table and took turns swinging to keep us both entertained and awake. They also painted the balls different colors to take the monotony out of watching the little white sphere coming at us—back and forth—for four days, four nights and four hours.
It turned out to be the most difficult and most mentally complex thing I had ever done. We set the record at 100 hours and were interviewed on the military broadcasting network AFRTS, although I have no idea what I was asked or how I answered.
After much-needed assistance back to our barracks, I think I slept only five hours before going to the mess hall for dinner. I received a wooden plaque and framed paddle that I still proudly possess.