As far as dreams go, Amber VanHemel’s was admittedly a weird one.
But dreams are stubborn things, and for reasons she can’t entirely explain, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student seemed to relish this one: After seeing a video on YouTube over the summer, VanHemel set out to throw a hot dog farther than anyone ever has before and to catch it snugly in a bun.
“I definitely have a knack for weird things,” she said. “The more random the better.”
VanHemel, who is pursuing a master’s degree at MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, knew that setting the Guinness World Records title for such a feat — which she attempted Saturday — would require a few very awkward steps.
For starters, there was the conversation she’d need to have when discussing her dream with a potential partner, someone who would either be the thrower or the catcher of the hot dog. That sidekick wound up being her former softball teammate, Phoebe Li, a junior at MIT and full-throated supporter of such an endeavor.
Then there was meeting Guinness’s strict rules and requirements for such an attempt. To secure the world record, the meat caught inside of a bun would need to be a certain length: a frankfurter anywhere from 5½ to 7 inches long and fully cooked.
“I was in Market Basket getting a lot of weird looks measuring hot dogs with a measuring tape,” VanHemel said. “Odd for sure.”
And finally, the inevitable practice sessions — tossing, and tossing, and tossing hot dogs from longer and longer distances, while the receiver stood far away with an open bun trying to catch the flailing, airborne sausage.
“We practiced, I think, three distinct times for about an hour or an hour and a half,” said VanHemel, a former pitcher for the softball team at MIT, where she got her undergraduate degree.
All that work culminated in Saturday’s attempt to beat the current World Record holders, David Rush and Jake Smith of San Diego, who in April earned the title after tossing a hot dog 32.1 meters — or 105 feet and 4 inches — and catching it smoothly between bread. Their attempt bested the record previously held by former Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell.
Before a record can be challenged and broken, Guinness requires people to first send in an application for the attempt, to be reviewed by the Records Management Team. Once the request is approved — a process that can take weeks — applicants are free to forge ahead with their dream. However, they must then document every step along the way, proving through videos, witnesses, and paperwork that they undeniably beat the current record-holder.
For VanHemel and Li, that meant enlisting the help of a professional land surveyor to record the distance of the thrown hot dog, as well as an MIT faculty member to handle some of the logistics for the challenge. They also set up a live-stream of the event at Briggs Field in Cambridge and invited dozens of people to bear witness and testify on their behalf.
Everything was in place. All there was left to do was throw a hot dog and catch it.
Although VanHemel was a pitcher when she played softball, and Li was most recently an infielder on MIT’s team, they switched roles for the attempt after feeling it out during practice sessions.
With a GoPro camera strapped to her head, VanHemel stood patiently at one end of Briggs Field, bun in hand. Li, standing at the other end, launched hot dog after hot dog — throwing them overhand — toward her partner-in-weird.
After about 20 throws (hot dogs sometimes break apart in mid-air, she said), they made a catch they felt would easily pass as a record-beater when scrutinized by Guinness officials. Just to be safe, they documented a second attempt as well.
“We threw one and got the distance, but it broke apart in the bun,” she said. “I think it would still count, but we said, ‘Let’s go for gold and do it again.’ ”
The second round was a cleaner catch and longer distance: 36.59 meters, or approximately 120 feet, well past the current record.
“It was really pretty,” VanHemel said of snagging the hot dog between the bun.
As for next steps, VanHemel said they’re collating evidence to send to Guinness so the company can verify the attempt. Once the packet is sent in, it can take anywhere from 12 to 16 weeks to hear back.
VanHemel said the verification process is rigorous, and “anticipation is real.” But they’re confident they’ll be crowned the newest champions.
MIT celebrated Li’s and VanHemel’s unofficial achievement this week by posting announcements on Twitter.
“Hot dog!” officials from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering wrote. “Another world record SHATTERED at #MIT!”
Hot dog! Another world record SHATTERED at #MIT! Phoebe Li & Amber VanHemel broke the world record for "longest throw & catch of a hot dog/sausage into a bun." Previous record = 32.106 meters. Phoebe and Amber threw for 36.9 meters! #thisismit #guinnessrecord #worldrecord pic.twitter.com/LbCoBcupTj— MIT CEE (@MIT_CEE) November 25, 2019
Amber VanHemel and Phoebe Li broke the Guinness World Record for the longest throw and catch of a hot dog into a bun! Phoebe threw the hot dog and Amber caught it in the bun 36.59 meters away 🌭👏. The previous record was 32.106 meters.— Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (@MIT) November 25, 2019
Image: mi.t.rex https://t.co/tGrFvEulwn pic.twitter.com/ybzLmxvfmB
When the effort was complete Saturday, Li and VanHemel celebrated accordingly: by taking a bite out of the hot dog that could put them in the record books.
“It was cold and not very pleasant,” said VanHemel, who admitted that she doesn’t even really like hot dogs. “That’s what victory tasted like: a cold hot dog.”