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Record Breaker Gets on All Fours for Charity

By Xi Yu, Contributing Writer

The day was perfect: overcast and misty. Eyeing the familiar high school track, she tried to hold back her nervous excitement as she adjusted her biker gloves and knee pads. Today, she had ditched the bubble wrap that usually covered her hand and knee padding. But she had added something new: elbow pads on her shoes.

A large crowd of students, faculty, and parents gathered behind her, chanting, “Let’s go, Laura, let’s go!” But their voices slurred into a muted blur. She could not hear them.

Slowly, as she had practiced so many times before, she bent down on her knees. Her fingers edged up against the white starting line. Then someone yelled, “Go!”

Placing one knee and hand in front of the other in a perfect rhythmic motion, she began to crawl.

As a high school junior, Laura E. D’Asaro ’13 broke the world record for being the fastest person to crawl a mile. In doing so, she raised over $5,000 for the American Cancer Society during a Relay for Life fund raiser. One-and-a-half years after that momentous June day, D’Asaro—an unconditional optimist who seeks inspiration in unusual non-profit ventures—continues to explore the philanthropic potential in breaking world records. Her latest project is starting a club at Harvard that will work to raise money for charity by breaking world records.

“WORLD RECORD IN PROGRESS”

D’Asaro’s crawling adventure started in January 2008, when she flipped past the flashy cover of the “Guinness World Records” at a bookstore near her home in Seattle, Wash. Intrigued, she entertained the idea of pursuing a record herself.

Two of the entries especially caught her eye: a man who had done the most number of cartwheels in an hour, and another who had the most number of snails stuck to his face for 10 seconds. But though she had some gymnastics experience, she did not feel up to the challenge of doing over 1,000 cartwheels. And she did not “want to be known as the girl who stuck snails to her face.”

Then D’Asaro saw the record time for crawling the mile: 23 minutes and 45 seconds. Realizing that crawling is “not a popular sport,” D’Asaro decided that this was the record she wanted to break.

In her initial test crawl, which took place on her school track, she completed the mile in 45 minutes. Armed with newly purchased biker gloves and kneepads, D’Asaro spent a week crawling around her neighborhood. On her second attempt around the track, D’Asaro found that she had improved her time by 10 minutes. She realized then, she said, that her project was actually “feasible.”

Every day for the next five months, rain or shine, D’Asaro padded her hands and knees as soon as she came home from school, securing them in layers of bubble wrap with long strips of duct tape. Then, wearing a sign on her back that read, “World Record in Progress,” she would begin her daily crawl. During these 45-minute training sessions, she sometimes brought her dog along, attaching its leash to a harness on her back. Other days, she asked a friend to walk with her.

“You had to walk briskly to keep up,” said Matthew E. D’Asaro, her older brother.

Meanwhile, D’Asaro’s school began organizing its annual Relay For Life, an event during which participants run or walk for 24 hours to raise money for the American Cancer Society. D’Asaro realized the fund raiser would be the perfect occasion to break the crawling record.

Now, when she went out on her daily crawls, the “World Record in Progress” sign taped to her back sported an additional line: the URL for her Relay For Life donation page. Money from neighbors and passersby soon came pouring in.

A NATURAL PHILANTHROPIST

When D’Asaro first announced her crawling project to her family, no one took her seriously.

“None of us would believe her because it seemed so completely odd,” Matthew said. “But that’s usually the case with Laura: When she sets her mind on doing something, she does it.”

This was certainly not the only time that D’Asaro had proposed—and actualized—a philanthropic vision.

In 2006, she raised over $13,500 selling lemonade and cookies to build a new playground for a local park. A year later, she mobilized classmates to record and distribute 150 books-on-tape to help disadvantaged children in her community learn to read. And earlier this year, she e-mailed over 100,000 elementary school teachers across the nation, asking their classes to participate in a card-making campaign for nursing home residents. This last effort resulted in her family’s e-mail service being temporarily shut down because she was suspected of running a spam operation.

Matthew, an engineering student at the University of Washington, helped her create Web sites for these projects, but all of D’Asaro’s initiatives have been self-directed. Her father, an oceanographer, and her mother, a former computer technician, have played mostly supporting roles.

But, D’Asaro said that they have been consistently dedicated to helping her succeed. “I mean sometimes they roll their eyes, but they’re always there,” she said.

Matthew said D’Asaro has more “happy energy” than anyone else in the family, adding that this “excess of enthusiasm” is a response to “living with three other people discussing technical matters” all the time.

“I’m happy about 98 percent of the time,” D’Asaro said. “I just don’t see a reason not to smile.”

A CONTAGIOUS SPIRIT

Now that she is at Harvard, D’Asaro hopes to spread her interest in breaking world records to raise money for charitable causes. Her ultimate goal is to form a permanent philanthrophy-focused club on campus.

So far, D’Asaro has started planning a Student Initiated Program through the Freshman Dean’s Office that will tackle some of the easier group world records first, such as recruiting the most people to balance books on their heads simultaneously or staging the largest game of “Duck, Duck, Goose.” Although the SIP is still in its early stages, she has already announced the intention to break these two records, along with 36 others, to Guinness World Records officials.

D’Asaro is also seeking businesses to sponsor her proposed attempt to break the record for the world’s longest handshake. Her friend Christopher D. Frugé ’13 has agreed to be her partner in this endeavor.

D’Asaro’s motivation for these projects comes from innovative humanitarian enterprises that she reads about online. This summer, she started collecting these ideas in a journal. Inside the front cover, she has inscribed her guiding mantra: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

Finding creative solutions to world problems, D’Asaro said, is her greatest dream.

“I want my life to mean something,” D’Asaro said. “When I die, I want [the world] to be a better place because I was in it. Each day is an opportunity to do that.”

22 MINUTES, 4 SECONDS

She had reached the last stretch of her crawl, but she refused to think about this. Ignoring the track timer, she forced herself to focus only on her breathing and counted silently: one, two, one, two.

Her father followed her with a video camera, his feet just a few steps behind her.

“Let’s go, Laura, lets go!” The crowd’s enthusiasm mounted.

Then her second foot crossed the finish line, and suddenly she could hear again. The cheering roared in her ears.

Her heart pounding, she tumbled to the ground with a smile on her face.

She was already beginning to celebrate what had been the most painful, yet exhilarating 22 minutes and 4 seconds of her life.

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