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Feature Story: World Record Hugger

Charlie Le Grand is a hugger.

Last Friday, he became a Guinness-World-Record-breaking hugger.

The journey began in early September after Le Grand, a 19-year-old sophomore studying applied physiology and kinesiology at the University of Florida, came across a video of a man breaking the world record for the most hugs given in one minute.

“I watched this video of a guy giving lightning fast hugs and thought to myself, ‘Well hey, I could probably do that. I could probably beat that,’” Le Grand said. “And that’s how it all started.”

The former record holder was Krishna Kumar from India. He set the record in March 2016 with 79 hugs, according to the Guinness World Records website.

79 was the number to beat.

Le Grand chose the date, time and location for his record-breaking attempt: September 23 at 3 p.m. in UF’s Plaza of the Americas. He created an event page on Facebook to spread the word about the event and encourage UF students to be a part of it.

Arnold Baburam, a 19-year-old sophomore studying computer science and a friend of Le Grand, said he saw the event and offered to videotape the attempt. Baburam said he was “really excited but not surprised” after seeing Le Grand’s goal.

“When I saw the event, I immediately wanted to be a part of it,” Baburam said. “I would describe myself as a hugger and Charlie’s such a loving guy, so this record was perfect for him. I knew I had to help in any way I could.”

About 50 people came to Plaza of the Americas to help break the record – including a reporter for WUFT News, who live streamed the event on the organization’s Facebook page, Le Grand said.

Joey McGinn, a 19-year-old sophomore studying history, said he was nervous that there were not enough people for Le Grand to hug.

McGinn said they had to get “creative and a little bold” to recruit others to join the record-breaking attempt.

He and a few other students approached groups of people who were tabling in Plaza of the Americas, studying in Library West and taking a campus tour.

“We even ran up to the tour group and said, ‘Hey tour people of UF, do you want to hug us?’” McGinn said. “They weren’t allowed to say yes, but I think we gave them a great story to tell their friends back home.”

Le Grand said he did not practice his hugging technique before the event, but he did visualize how to set up the participants.

He arranged them into two lines in the shape of a V, positioning himself at the opening in the front, and told them to run to the back of the line after their first hug.

The first attempt failed.

Le Grand said he gave 74 hugs – just five hugs short of the world record.

On the second attempt, Le Grand changed his strategy. He said he lined up the participants in two lines directly next to each other to quicken the hugging process.

"I was hauling really fast in the beginning but 45 seconds into it, you could see me start to slow down,” Le Grand said. “But everyone in line was screaming and cheering things like, ‘No, no, no, you have to speed up! Go faster! You can do this Charlie!’”

And he did.

Le Grand gave 100 hugs in one minute.

When it was over, Le Grand said he screamed and ran a victory lap around Plaza of the Americas to celebrate.

“I hugged the last person as the time was expiring, then I pumped my arms up and screamed ‘100!’” Le Grand said. “The reporter asked me how I was feeling. I was panting and trying to catch my breath. I just said, ‘Man, this is a great day.’”

Le Grand said he was surprised he was tired after the minute was over.

Although he is a member of a triathlon team and runs about 25 miles a week, Le Grand said that hugging more than one person per second was “more exhausting than you’d think.”

Lindsay Narbeth, a 20-year-old junior studying telecommunications and French, said the energy in the crowd was electric before and after Le Grand broke the record.

“When Charlie got to 100, everyone was cheering and clapping and jumping up and down,” Narbeth said. “It was pretty funny because this record isn’t exactly a serious world event, but everyone there took it really seriously.”

Le Grand said his favorite part of the day was what happened after he broke the record.

“People came up to me and said ‘Hey, you just made my entire week,’” Le Grand said. “I know what it’s like to have a rough week, month or year. So if I can make someone’s day with something as simple as a hug, I’m happy to do that. The world needs a lot of love right now.”

This world record is his first – but Le Grand said it will not be his last.

“There is another world record for me to break and I just don’t know it yet,” Le Grand said. “I have to see what other Facebook videos pop up. I might just break the one for the fastest time to run a mile with an egg on a spoon while riding a unicycle.”

Elle Beecher