WUSTL students aim to break record for longest massage chain

Effort raises awareness of teen suicide; Jason Foundation CEO to attend event

In May 2010, WUSTL graduating seniors set a Guinness world record by creating the longest massage chain with 710 participants. Later that year, a group in Thailand broke the record with 1,223 people. Now, WUSTL wants the record back.

Unlike the first effort in 2010 — a final, lighthearted accomplishment for the senior class — this event is a teen suicide awareness campaign.

All members of the WUSTL community are invited to give and get massages in the longest massage chain at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, on Francis Field. Participants are asked to donate $1 to the Jason Foundation, a nationally recognized provider of educational and awareness programs equipping youth, educators, youth workers and parents. No registration is required.

Jason Foundation CEO Clark Flatt is attending the event and will share the story of his son, Jason, a 16-year-old who committed suicide in 1997.

Jason got mostly B’s on his report card, loved sports, especially football, was active in his youth group and had lots of friends. From all appearances, he loved life.

Massage chain ‘symbolic’

WUSTL football players are organizing the massage chain and hope to draw 2,000 people to Francis Field.

“I saw that Wash U had set the world record before, and that the record had been subsequently broken, and decided why not?” says senior wide receiver Michael Weiss, a marketing major at Olin Business School and English major in Arts & Sciences. “The massage chain, as a symbol, is actually apropos to part of the message that we want to impart: all it takes is one person to help another.

“At the end of the day, the purpose of this event is to let people know about teen suicide in America. It is unbelievably more prevalent than I would have guessed, and the more people that attend the event, the more will be motivated to effect change as I have been,” he says.

To ensure that the massage chain meets eligibility requirements, Weiss has been communicating with Guinness representatives for several months.

“There are two ways to make it an official attempt — one, hire a Guinness adjudicator for 4,500 euros (nearly $6,000), fly him or her out from London (Guinness headquarters) to make a decision on the spot, or, two, compile sufficient evidence and then send it to Guinness,” Weiss says.

Per Guinness guidelines, the evidence must be verified through video or photos, two independent witness statements and one steward for every 50 participants.

The actual massaging is expected to last only a matter of minutes; the majority of time will be spent organizing everyone into a continuous single-file line and counting the participants.

The football team began supporting the Jason Foundation in spring 2011 after Coach Larry Kindbom decided to run his first marathon in support of the cause. While prepping, Kindbom asked his players to donate a penny to the Jason Foundation for each mile he ran, both in training and in the marathon.

The choice of charity was arbitrary at the time, but through the experience, Kindbom met Clark Flatt.

Kindbom, along with Assistant Coach Dennis Snep and team members, decided to support the foundation on an ongoing basis.

Reaching out to high school students

Senior wide receiver Michael Weiss (No. 9) talks with area high school students about the importance of supporting one another. (Credit: Courtesy)

As a result, the team visits high schools in St. Louis and Illinois, speaking with football players.

“It’s not so much that we blatantly talk about suicide,” Weiss says, “but more so about how they (the players) have a built-in support system with their teams and have the ability to effect change.”

Weiss says efforts initially were met with some resistance, as some high schools didn’t want the team to address the sensitive issue of teen suicide.

“Students from multiple schools have sent us follow-up emails of their own volition, thanking us for coming to speak and saying how we influenced them to be more aware and how they have actually done tangible things in their schools after our interactions,” he says.

Part of the reason Flatt is traveling to WUSTL is to personally thank the team for speaking in high schools.

The event is being co-sponsored by the Habif Health & Wellness Center, Active Minds, Uncle Joe’s and Stressbusters.

For more information about the team’s efforts, visit washufootball.com/index_files/Jasonfoundation.htm.

For information about the Jason Foundation, visit jasonfoundation.com/.