World Beater

Little wonder George Hood, Jr., made international headlines in January: A special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration beset by hallucinations. Bet that made him popular with his colleagues. Actually it did.

George Hood, Jr., left, with his father, the mayor of Indiana, Pa.

Hood, who earned a Government and Public Service degree from IUP in 1980, raised more than $30,000 for Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), which assists families of slain law enforcement officers, while setting a world record for spinning—riding a stationary bicycle—at Five Seasons Sports Club in suburban Chicago. He endured sleep deprivation—hence the hallucinations—and various physical ailments to achieve his goal of landing in the Guinness Book of World Records.

A career federal agent who resides in Aurora, Ill., Hood rode for eighty-five consecutive hours while sleeping a grand total of forty minutes, and covered 1,082.3 miles, the equivalent of a trip from IUP to Boston and back.

“When I finally got off the bike,” he said, “I was totally depleted. There was nothing left.”
  
Hood attracted global attention during his four days of peddling, with newspapers as distant as Taiwan’s Taipei Times and the Daily Times of Lahore, Pakistan, chronicling his monumental feat. USA Today, Sports Illustrated, the New York Times, CNN, ESPN—even Seth Meyers in the “Weekend Update” segment of Saturday Night Live—also devoted coverage to his marathon ride.

Hood’s entrance into the realm of celebrity can be traced to his entrance into a Chicago bookstore nine months before. 

“I had taken up spinning, and I was quite proficient at it,” he explained. “I’m inquisitive by nature, and I was curious as to what the spin record was. I was out with a buddy of mine one day over the noon hour, and we went into a bookstore. I looked in the Guinness book, and they happened to have the stationary bicycle record in there.”

Brian Overkaer of Denmark held the existing mark: eighty-two hours. Hood was convinced he could eclipse Overkaer’s standard, provided he trained properly. Hood soon began logging more time on his bike and less time in his bed.

“I had to train at night if I was going to make this happen,” he said. “The body has to get used to being up at night exercising. September through December, I only averaged about three to four hours of sleep a day. I’d come home from work, crawl into bed for a few hours, get up and go to the gym. I’d spin all night, five, six, seven hours at a time. Then I’d go back to work.”

Hood launched his record-breaking attempt before dawn on Wednesday, January 10. Guinness guidelines stipulated that he ride at least twelve miles every hour and allowed for periodic five-minute breaks, time that could be banked and used later. He dozed only briefly on a blanket stretched out on the floor near his bike.

“You never want to sleep for more than twelve, fifteen minutes max, because your body goes into a deeper sleep and it’s very difficult to come out of it,” said Hood, who eschewed solid food in favor of a liquid protein/multi-vitamin complex carbohydrate supplement. “That happened to me on Saturday morning, very, very early. When I got back on the bike I had a hell of a time waking up. I kept pouring water on my face.”

Supporters chatted with Hood to keep him engaged when he threatened to nod off. The core cheering section included his father, the mayor of Indiana Borough; his three teenage sons, Christopher, Brandon, and Andrew; his brother, Frank; his sister, Sue McKissick, a 1982 IUP grad; his niece, Nichole Barry; his trainer, Brian Clark; and Mickey Straub, a 1979 IUP alumnus with whom he’s publishing The Mile Book, a training journal in which athletes can document their performance—and progress—on a daily basis. Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Bobby Jenks regularly visited Hood, too. Jenks even offered to loan him his 2005 World Series championship ring to wear as a good luck charm.

Hood needed a little luck. He had to overcome “saddle sores,” aching muscles, and a strained knee tendon, not to mention the tricks his mind played on him as the lack of sleep took its toll.

“The whole hallucinatory experience started to take effect Friday about midnight,” Hood said. “The dynamics of the room were changing on me. People seemed to be moving around, and I’d swear the bike was in a different place each time I came back after a break. Now I look at the tapes and I realize that nothing moved.”

Hood forged on through it all, tireless as the Energizer bunny. As he neared Overkaer’s record Saturday night, the crowd at Five Seasons, like a New Year’s Eve throng in Times Square, began counting down the seconds.

“When we were about a minute away, you could just see that room starting to swell,” Hood said. “There must have been three hundred people in there. The place was packed. The media showed up, the lights came on, the cameras came on. The memory of that moment will last a lifetime.”

He raised a fist in triumph when the record fell, and the crowd erupted in thunderous cheers. Hood rode on for another three hours before finally climbing off the bike at 11:58 p.m. For the second time in his life he held a world record. Hood jumped rope continuously for thirteen hours, twelve minutes, and eleven seconds back in 1986, but his time was surpassed before the Guinness spring publication deadline, so his name never made it into print. To finally gain a place in the world’s foremost repository of records is doubly significant for Hood, given that the feat also benefited families of officers killed in the line of duty. He was blown away by the fact that in excess of $30,000 was raised for COPS, far beyond his original goal of $20,000.

“To raise that kind of money is pretty rewarding,” said Hood, who is next eyeing a Guinness record for most times on an elliptical machine. “I mean, the world record’s really nice. But knowing this event helped so many people is what makes it so special. To think about it gives me goose bumps.”

No wonder fellow law enforcement officers applauded DEA agent George Hood as he continued pedaling through four sunrises and four sunsets, through the pain, through the tricks his mind was playing on him. They didn’t even mind when he started hallucinating.

Update, 5/5/07: Due to a technicality, Hood's world record attempt was disqualified by Guinness officials. He will attempt to break the record again in July. Select for the article in the Indiana Gazette.