Planking into the record books
Local teen defies birth defects, eyes Guinness World Record
By Alex Solomon
April 17th, 2014
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Gabi Ury looks, acts, and talks like your typical high school sophomore — sure, at four feet eight inches tall, Ury may not be at the head of her class in terms of height — but the lifelong Boulder resident is on the verge accomplishing something very few can say they have: becoming a Guinness World Record holder. She’s tackling that challenge despite facing significant medical issues that required over a dozen major surgeries throughout childhood.
The feat Ury will undertake in her attempt to enter the worldrenowned record book is holding a sustained abdominal plank position longer than any female in recorded history — all the while raising money for the hospital that she spent so much time in growing up.
“There is no reason not to try any challenge, because you might find something you never thought you’d be good at,” Ury says. “Complaining about something you can’t change is not worth your time. Instead, focus your energy on something that helps others.”
In case you have never attempted the grueling exercise, a plank position is similar to a push-up position, but with forearms on the ground rather than palms. The plank places extreme demands on the muscles that are constantly engaged during the pose, including the abdominals, back and shoulders. A brief self-tutorial of the position, which is commonly used as a core strengthening technique, will almost surely leave you fatigued, and possibly wondering why someone would dare to rigorously train years to become the very best plank performer on Earth.
It’s tough on anyone, but Ury was born with VATER syndrome — her spine was severely impaired and several major muscle groups were undeveloped. VATER, or VACTERL association, derives its name as an acronym for the different parts of the body and organs malformed in the birth defect — vertebrae, anus, cardiac anomalies, windpipe, feeding tube, kidney, and limbs. Anomalies in at least three of the following areas lead to a diagnoses of VATER. A number of physical deficiencies associated with VATER syndrome were immediately apparent with Ury. An absence of key muscles and deformed vertebrae left Ury’s parents fearing their newborn daughter might never walk.
Denver’s Children’s Hospital was a second home for Ury. A daunting list of surgeries was performed, the first when Ury was only 4 months old. The total number of surgeries Ury has undergone is 14, the majority of which took place before she turned 5.
“I got to know the Children’s Hospital real well,” she says, smiling.
Modern technology, talented doctors and, most of all, Ury’s fortitude, eventually paid off. She began spending far less time in the hospital, and more time skiing, competing on her school’s volleyball team, playing with friends and traveling the globe to visit 23 countries.
While Ury is still impaired by scoliosis, and continues to live without glutes and some of her abdominal muscles, she typically only visits her doctor once every six months in order to have her blood drawn for periodic tests. Ury is also without her calf muscles, which is why says she “still can’t run well.”
Since the age of 10, Ury has had an interest in the Guinness World Records, and aspired to be the very best something — anything, really. The Alexander Dawson college prep student has already attempted to construct the longest hopscotch course in history, and layer the most socks over a single foot — an endeavor reaching “about 60 socks.”
A chance suggestion from a coach unveiled her unique talent. Nearly four years ago, during a volleyball practice, Ury’s coach ordered the team to run a mile. Ury informed her coach that she was not physically capable of running a mile due to her undeveloped calves. Her coach countered by suggesting Ury lay in plank position while the others ran. When Ury’s teammates finished their timed run, the coach returned to Ury’s side, where she was still holding firm to her plank. When asked if she had been holding the pose the entirety of time the coach was focused on her teammates completing their run, Ury confirmed that she had indeed. Astonished, the coach told Ury that she had been in plank position for 12 minutes. Ury immediately saw the exercise as a vehicle to take her into the pages of the Guinness Book of World Records.
In similar fashion to her commitment in overcoming the hardships of VATER syndrome, Ury is bent on surpassing the longest sustained plank by a female, which currently stands at 40 minutes and one second. In order to do so, Ury has trained rigorously for years, all while patiently awaiting her 16th birthday. The sustained plank record is considered an endurance record by Guinness World Records and any person attempting to break the record must be at least 16 years of age for a recordbreaking submission to be considered.
Ury’s current personal best in holding the plank position is one hour, which is just shy of 20 minutes longer than the record currently in the Guinness Book of World Records. Never one satisfied by achieving the bare minimum, Ury plans to not only surpass the 40 minute and one second mark, but “smash” the record by again planking for one full hour on April 19 — two days after her 16th birthday.
In a surprise turn of events, Ury has been forced to modify her plan of action. When the current female plank record holder, 42-year old Eva Bulzomi of Boise, Idaho, heard of Ury’s story and her plans to break sustained plank holding record, she contacted Ury to inform the Boulder girl that she had outdone her 40-plus minute mark with a new record of one hour, five minutes and 18 seconds. Bulzomi’s new best has yet to be published, but it is the unofficial standard Ury must now surpass.
“I got a little nervous when I heard about the new time,” Ury admits. “It was nice to have that cushion of time knowing that I could go above and beyond 40 minutes. I’ve done an hour, and I think I’ll be able to do it, especially with all of the adrenaline and excitement. I still think I can do it, but it definitely makes me a little more nervous.”
Ury says she appreciates Bulzomi reaching out to update Ury on her latest achievement, while also encouraging Ury and letting her know she is rooting for the teenager to break the record.
The plank-performing local has another supporter in her Junior Varsity volleyball coach, Hermine Ngnomire.
“Gabi is somebody you want to be around, and somebody who raises her team,” Ngnomire says. “But more than that, she understands the essence of life, and what is most important.”
Ury’s perseverance through all of her surgeries, as well as her exceptional ability to hold a plank, has built a platform, which she is using to help others.
“Somebody asked me if I was doing this for charity, and I hadn’t really thought about it,” says the soon-to-be 16-year-old. “So, I starting thinking about it, and something that came to mind was the Children’s Hospital because they helped me so much and I spent quite a bit of my time there.”
A website has been launched, www.gabiplanks.com, where friends, fans and anyone interested in donating to the Children’s Hospital of Colorado, can make contributions towards the organization Ury credits for her physical resurgence. Ury’s fundraising has generated over $10,000, and continues to inch toward her goal of $15,000.
For now, Ury says she is looking forward to celebrating her 16th birthday with friends and family, although the overwhelming celebration will likely come Saturday, April 19, when Ury hopes to etch her mark in the Guinness Book of World Records.