WINSTON-SALEM What did you do this weekend? Grill out? Netflix binge? Do some chores? Bet you didn’t play field hockey for 51 straight hours.
While most everyone else was enjoying a Friday afternoon happy hour on April 28, 32 players gathered at Forsyth Country Day’s Rea Stadium for a field hockey game. Unlike a normal game, this one didn’t end after 70 minutes.
Instead, this game lasted for more than two days as the group, spearheaded by Melissa Martin, (hopefully) set a new world record for the longest field hockey game ever played at 51 hours.
A group in the United Kingdom currently holds the record at 40 hours, but when Martin heard the same group recently played a 48-hour game and was waiting on Guinness verification, she didn’t want to take any chances and set her goal at 51 hours.
Because Martin received clearance to conduct the game without a Guinness representative present, everything was meticulously documented with stat sheets, videos and photos.
With the exception of misty, chilly nights and humid days, a 45-minute thunderstorm and a broken finger Friday night, the event went pretty smoothly.
During the thunderstorm, only players who were out of college were allowed to stay on the field, reducing the game to a 2-on-2 affair (international field hockey rules don’t have a minimum player requirement per team) while everyone else took shelter in the girls’ locker rooms in the stadium complex.
As for the broken finger, the injured player tried to stay and fight through the pain, but with a compound fracture revealing her bone, she left in the middle of the night for the emergency room and was disqualified. Per Guinness guidelines, once a player left the fenced enclosure around the field, he or she could not return. The departure didn’t disqualify the game, but the teams couldn’t replace the missing player. By the end of the weekend, the group lost only four players. Here are the stories of those who stayed.
Ned Erickson, the Hustle King
Prior to April 29, Ned Erickson picked up a field hockey stick exactly one time in his life four days earlier at his nine-year-old daughter’s field hockey practice.
But what the Winston-Salem father of two lacked in stick skills, he more than made up for in endurance experience, making him a perfect team member for the world-record attempt.
“I put him on the email because he is an endurance runner,” organizer Melissa Martin said. “He’s a really good athlete, and he’ll go on these overnight runs. He’s so passionate about sports. His daughter is getting really into field hockey. I was like, ‘Do this for your daughter. Come out.’ He didn’t think about it twice.”
Erickson, founder of the Winston-Salem Fellows nonprofit organization, set a record of his own in 2014 by running the 252-mile North Carolina section of the Blue Ridge Parkway in four days, eight hours and 38 minutes.
So a 51-hour field hockey game? Surprisingly pretty minor.
“I do run marathons and have some endurance sport experience,” Erickson said. “What I fail in talent, I try to compensate with just hustle.”
So Erickson borrowed one of Martin’s sticks and headed out to the field Friday afternoon.
“Melissa Martin can be very persuasive,” Erickson said. “She’s such an inspiration, and I guess I’m a glutton for punishment.”
And when the weekend was over and the blue team beat the green team 551-541, Erickson earned a stick of his own, fighting through fatigue and thunderstorms to win the men’s MVP award for scoring a game-high 74 goals. Yes, 74 goals.
“The natural elements have been challenging,” he said. “It rained, it was misting for a good half of our time here. The girls, their spirits were high the whole time. It was really amazing.
“Field hockey requires you to bend over and there’s muscles that I just have not used ever that are screaming at me right now.”
The Dallas dropouts
When Jamie Celk got a text from Melissa Martin asking her to participate, the senior didn’t think twice.
Sure, it was 1,100 miles and a three-hour flight away from her home base of North Texas, and, yes, finals were on the horizon, but she wasn’t about to turn down a historical field hockey game.
“I have finals coming up, second week in May, two exams on Tuesday,” Celk said. “I brought my stuff with me and sadly, didn’t have a chance to study. Either I was struggling to sleep or I was trying to get stretched out and ready to play.”
The airline did Celk and three other players from Dallas no favors, forcing them onto the field without a key item: their sticks. The equipment showed up six hours into the game, but they were forced to use loaners to kick things off.
The lost luggage wasn’t even the toughest part for Celk, who was forced into more substantial shelter than her tent when temperatures and rainy weather collided for rough sleeping weather.
“It was so cold at night. I slept in the girls’ locker room,” Celk said. “The tent wasn’t working for me at all.”
Guinness’ delayed approval of the game left the four players from Dallas just about a month and a half to train, but Celk said she added in more cardio and P90X over the last month.
Arul Palaniappan, a native of India who learned to play the game in his home country, leaned on experience playing in jam-packed tournaments with the Dallas Field Hockey club.
“Playing in tournaments, it’s like 7 or 8 games in two days continuously,” he said. “The attitude then is we have to win. During that time, those days are tough.”
With an hour left, Palaniappan sat on the track around the field, methodically stretching. He knew he’d be sore afterwards, but he wasn’t too worried.
“Probably one day is enough time,” he said of his recovery time. “I’ll probably have after effects for a week, but I’ll be able to keep moving.”
Top of the class
Packets of homework and upcoming AP exams weren’t stopping Mati Maltba.
The Reagan High School junior had an AP exam in the upcoming week but she wasn’t about to let a test get in the way of her chance to go down in the record books.
“Some [exams] are at 8 a.m. or 7:30 or something Monday,” Melissa Martin said. “I was just like, no excuses. We all have things to do the following week. If you can push through, push through. If you have second guesses, this isn’t for you. These are the girls who are mentally tough and knew they could push through.”
When the weekend began, Maltba and friends Skylar Holden-Bache and Carson Doub were energetic, bouncing around sidelines as they grabbed a couple quick snacks before subbing in.
With the exception of Doub, who had to leave Friday night with strep throat and a double ear infection, their enthusiasm lasted the first 25 hours or so. Maltba and Holden-Bache, both on the blue team, swapped places through the night, each taking four-hour shifts beginning at midnight.
“At 4 in the morning we were all beat and just walking,” Maltba said.
Though Maltba usually plays forward and Holden-Bache stays at midfield, the pair rotated goalie duties Saturday afternoon, giggling as they talked about their newly found cage skills while swapping pads.
With two hours to go to break the record, Maltba and Holden-Bache were still going strong thanks to a burst of adrenaline.
Partly out of hustle and mostly out of comedic exhaustion, Maltba dove on the ground after a loose ball. She was slow to rise with her achy muscles, but she kept a smile on her face the whole time.
When it finally finished, Maltba and her friends took hundreds of pictures, posing to commemorate the moment. But within 30 minutes of capturing the record, the stadium was nearly empty.
The real world called again.
“Shower,” said Maltba, her voice scratchy as she listed off her priorities. “And get right in my bed. My bed will feel sooo nice.”
Melissa Martin knows the human body isn’t supposed to be able to run 26 miles or play field hockey for 51 hours. But that’s kind of the point.
Three weeks after running the Paris Marathon, Martin, who played field hockey at Wake Forest and with the U.S. National squad, took the field at Forsyth Country Day School to play in a world-record field hockey game that she organized.
“I love these challenging events,” said Martin “I love doing the marathon the other weekend. You just have to push yourself. We’re not built to do marathons. We’re not built to play 51 hours of field hockey, but obviously we can do all these things. People run marathons all the time. People run 100-mile races. We did this field hockey game. It just shows you can push yourself beyond your limits and anyone can do it.”
Martin, the founder and director of NC Triad Field Hockey, fielded 32 participants and coordinated more than 100 volunteers to help score, record and document the game. This is her spare time, mind you she also continued to coach her travel teams, work in marketing at Hanes Brands and pursue her MBA at Wake Forest.
When the world record announcement was made over the PA, Martin sprinted up the field, surrounded by her players, friends and teammates. She yelled in exhaustion and exuberance, celebrating the incredible feat. And as the field emptied out, families taking home exhausted daughters and out-of-towners sprinting to their hotels, Martin sat on a metal bench and cracked a Guinness, a gift from the father of a player.
She celebrated her accomplishment for a few minutes before packing up and heading home, too. Though she had pushed herself to her physical limits, she had to rally and start a mental marathon beginning with a project due at 6 p.m. the next day and ending with a flight to India for a two-week MBA program case competition.
Martin isn’t satisfied (obviously?).
“51 hours, that’s nothing,” she said. “We’re still ready to go. The next record we’re breaking, we’re playing for 100 hours and the plan is to do that in two summers because next year we’re going to South Africa to play and volunteer. The following year, we’re going to break 100 hours.”
“Everyone is on board. Nobody even questioned me.”