Stand by your van

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As tests of human endurance go, few are stranger "“ or more subtly sadistic "“ than Texas' annual "Hands on a Hardbody" contest. Sponsored by a Nissan dealership as a publicity stunt and featured in a fascinating 1997 documentary, its rules are pure evil genius: to win a brand-new truck, all contestants have to do is keep their hand on it ... longer than anyone else. Including hourly five-minute breaks and occasional drug tests to make sure goofballs and bennies aren't giving anyone a competitive edge, the contest has run as long as 126 hours. (For those of you counting, that's more than five days without sleep, and though the world record for sleep deprivation is a cool 265 hours, hallucinations and other nasty side effects tend to kick in around day three.) But as any former contestant will tell you "“ despite aching backs, swollen legs and fallen arches "“ physical endurance is the easy part. 1993 Hardbody winner Benny Perkins:

"It's a contest, they say, of stamina. But it's who can maintain their sanity the longest, and that's what it is. That's what it comes to. Cause when you go insane, you lose."

Tragically, when 2005 contestant Ricky Vega dropped out after 48 hours, he lost more than just his shot at a new Toyota Tacoma:

The 24-year-old East Texan politely excused himself just before a scheduled 15-minute break for competitors. He went directly to a Kmart across the street, threw a trash can through a window and rushed into the store. When police arrived, they saw Vega walking from the back of the store toward the doors. He had a shotgun in his hands, and when police confronted him, he shot himself in the temple.

Psychologists blame his death on sleep deprivation, which has been known to take garden-variety mental health troubles "“ Vega had a history of run-ins with the police, among other problems "“ and make them exponentially worse.

Look for more posts on sleep deprivation and feats of endurance "“ all of which will be happier, and none of which will feature David Blaine "“ in upcoming posts.

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August 24, 2006 - 5:26am
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