BRUNSWICK, Maine — The night before Bowdoin College freshman Trevor McDonald would attempt the Guinness World Record he was sure he could shatter, the bar was raised.
On Friday, McDonald planned to toss a grape into the air and, then, at least 27 feet away, catch the airborne orb in his mouth. As of Thursday, any catch farther than 27 feet from McDonald’s starting point would have broken the record.
But not on Friday. Overnight, Guinness confirmed that the current record holder, Ashrita Furman, had extended his best self-tossed grape catch to 37 feet.
But that didn’t worry McDonald. The talent that grew more from playful dining hall antics and a high school history of running track had him up to a personal best of 42 feet during practice sessions.
On Friday, under supportive scrutiny from a dozen or so witnesses, official and unofficial — while McDonald’s classmate Peter Niemczyk manned the video camera and Brunswick surveyor Robb Spivey verified the trueness of the Farley Field House track — McDonald displayed just the slightest bit of nerves as he warmed up by tossing and snaring grapes plucked from a plastic container placed beside the track.
After a few trial runs to establish arc and distance parameters, McDonald got down to the task of accomplishing what no human before him had ever done.
As friends offered “C’mon, Trevor” encouragement and curious bystanders looked on, McDonald heaved his first toss into the air and corralled it in 37.5 feet away.
Looking to place greater distance between himself and who he hopes will be the previous record holder, McDonald went back to his starting point and lofted another grape toward the rafters. Seconds later, he snagged the small red grape in his mouth as it sped back toward the ground, 39 feet away from where he had heaved it skyward with his left hand.
“Doesn’t that hurt?” an onlooker called out from the sidelines.
The unassuming potential world record holder — Guinness still must confirm McDonald’s feat — shrugged off the question.
“The popping sound is the grape hitting the back of my mouth,” he explained. “But it doesn’t hurt.”
Based on a few assumptions about the average grape size and given the distance McDonald traveled, Bowdoin College physics lab instructor Elise Weaver calculated that the grape was falling at around 11 miles per hour by the time McDonald reached the end of the 39-foot run.
“I always wanted a record,” McDonald told two representatives of Bowdoin College’s communications department, who also used a video camera to record the record attempt and McDonald’s reaction. “I found this record and it looked doable.”
For the record, McDonald likes the taste of grapes and wasn’t “juiced” with any performance enhancing substances.
Furman — who holds that verified self-tossed grape catch record and more than 100 other world records, giving him the title for holding the most records — wasn’t disappointed to hear of McDonald’s 39-foot toss just a day after his new record was accepted.
“I’m happy that he broke it,” Furman told The Times Record in a recent phone interview.
For Furman — who uses transcendental meditation practices of the Indian spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy in setting records like his first for the longest somersault, at a distance of 12 miles — setting those records is about the challenge, not the title.
“For me, the goal is to find a record that seems impossible and then try to break it. And for many of those, you have to try and dig deep,” Furman said.
Furman said his school of meditation centers on the idea that “you can transcend every aspect of your body.”
About McDonald’s advancement in the grape-tossing record, Furman said, “I think we’re making progress.”
In breaking the grape record, amid the scholastic rigors of preparing for exams, writing papers and attending classes, McDonald said the greatest challenge came in completing the paperwork for the international record verification process.
“The process deterred me for months,” McDonald said.
Improving springtime weather and concern that he wouldn’t be able to set the record while at home in Londonderry, Vt., finally pushed him to firm up plans to break the record.
And home was where the news would travel first. McDonald said he would inform his sister first and, though he wasn’t rushing to make the call, he would tell his parents.
“I’ve got to talk to my mom about some other things, so I’ll probably call her today to tell her about the record,” he said Friday.
Snagging a Guinness World Record for grape-catching, McDonald said, wasn’t near the top of his parents’ list of priorities for the college freshman. His mother worried about choking, but McDonald shrugged off that concern as a risk worth taking in the quest to extend the limits of human achievement.
For now, maintaining the record isn’t likely to take much more of McDonald’s time. At least, not as a result of challenges from Furman.
Furman said his immediate focus is on running the world’s fastest half-marathon carrying a set of golf clubs and breaking his standing record of catching 75 raw eggs in one minute.
“Every once in awhile, I look back at the records and see what I can do,” Furman said.
But he has no immediate designs on the grape record.
“I send my congratulations,” Furman said.
For more from the Times Record, go to timesrecord.com.