Let's see, how to describe Thomas Gounley? Who, as a kid, taught himself to ride a unicycle for no apparent reason. Who, on a whim, decided to bike 1,350 miles from St. Louis to Yorktown. And who, in his latest bit of inspired madness, will run the Boston Marathon while juggling.
"Well," says his mother, Judy, "he was always entertaining for the neighbors."
University of New Hampshire, has never been called ordinary. He's double-majoring in environmental conservation studies and journalism. He was the executive editor of UNH's student newspaper and never met a challenge he didn't feel confident of overcoming.
Which brings us to the marathon.
In December 2010, Gounley decided he wanted to break a Guinness World Record before he graduated. He came across something called "joggling," which is jogging while juggling. He was intrigued.
The record time for joggling in a marathon is held by Canadian Michal Kapral, who in 2006 finished Toronto in 2 hours, 50 minutes and 9 seconds. Gounley didn't see that as doable. But there was the 50-mile ultra marathon record: 8:23.52, set by Perry Romanowski in 2007.
"I ran cross country in high school and I've run marathons (including Boston last year) in college," he says. "And I had this circus phase in middle school when I learned how to juggle. So I thought I could mix the two. I like having goals. I like being bizarre."
His friends will confirm that.
"Tom has always been the type of person to go out there and do something everyone else would view as crazy," said Chad Graff, a junior at UNH who works with Gounley on the newspaper. "So when he told me he wanted to set a Guinness World Record, I didn't think twice."
So last May, Gounley headed out to Riverview Farm Park in Newport News with some juggling balls. His first attempt went better than expected. He was hoping to run a couple of miles while getting used to it, but he ended up running seven.
There were a bunch of dropped balls, of course. But the next time out, there were fewer. And the next time, even fewer.
On New Year's Day, he entered the Sentara 5K in the Coliseum Central area. It would be his first time joggling with others running around him. Amazingly, despite being the only joggler, he finished first in the 19-24 age group and fourth overall at 18 minutes flat.
A week later, Gounley joggled the Colonial Parkway. He started at Victory Center in Yorktown and, using his Garmin Forerunner 305 to compute his distance, went 13.1 miles out. Then he turned around and came back.
That's 26.2 miles — marathon distance — which he covered in 3:20. A ranger once stopped to tell him he was crazy. (Like he hadn't heard that before).
When Gounley told his parents of his marathon and world record plans, they weren't that surprised. How could they be? They've known Thomas for 21 years. And could this be any more radical than what he did last summer?
Gounley had received a reporting internship at Fork Knox, Ky., where he covered summer training for the U.S. Army Cadet Command. His father, George, who had been transferred to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, loaned him his car for the summer.
After Thomas' internship ended, he and his father were to meet in Louisville and drive back to their home Newport News. But Thomas had an idea: He'd return the car to his father and then ride his bike halfway across the country.
"I told him, well, that's something I would have never thought of, but something you would," George said. "He turned a problem of returning a car into a 1,350-mile road trip."