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Extremely Unusual

Extreme sports abound but there’s one you may not have heard of -- extreme ironing. It’s been called ‘part sport, part spectacle,’ ‘a spoof sport’ and the curious advised that ‘it’s something you have to see to believe. ‘ But founder Phil Shaw views it simply as “an outdoor activity that combines the danger and excitement of an extreme sport with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt.”

It began in 1997 when Shaw, from Leicester, England and his roommate, Paul Cartwright decided to combine the chore of ironing with the thrill of their new hobby, rock climbing. A few pillowcases, sheets and mountain tops later, the ‘sport’ known today as extreme ironing (EI) was born. Shaw has become Steam and his new partner is better known as Starch. Together, they and a band of EI enthusiasts have seen the first world EI championships held in Europe in 2002 and in 2004 were at the forefront of a US tour as part of their campaign for Olympic recognition.

The concept is fairly simple. You start small (perhaps a foray to your backyard), with ironing board, iron and clothes to be pressed in hand and begin ironing. As you become more comfortable you up the challenges and begin ironing in more extreme places.

Picture this. You are climbing up a steep mountain face, clawing your breathless way to the top, when suddenly you take out your iron, ironing board and perhaps a shirt for work and beginning to iron. Now imagine yourself hurtling down some rapids in a canoe, or riding on top of a moving train, or doing a handspring from one trampoline to the other and in each case you are busy vigorously ironing some piece of laundry with your handy iron. These are just a sampling of some of the EI feats that have taken place worldwide.

According to the EI website at www.extremeironing.com by 1998, ‘the mood was right for a more mainstream recognition of the sport and extreme ironing moved from an underground (almost mystical) organization and proclaimed itself as the ruling body of the now semi-official sport, known as the Extreme Ironing Bureau (EIB).’

In 2000, a team of enthusiastic ironers set up a sister office in Germany where a branch of EI that combines ironing with meditation began. Today EI has a following in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Chile, Croatia, and the US.

So just why do the founders think this sport has found such a universal popularity? “Most people find ironing quite boring and it gives it an added layer of excitement,” said Steam. “And for those extreme sports fans, it gives something like rock climbing, for example, an added level of difficulty. Everybody wins.”

In 2004 the two-week long US adventure began in Boston, continued in the Black Hills of South Dakota at Mount Rushmore and ended with a grand finale in Times Square on Memorial Day, May 31. "After our victory at the Extreme Ironing World Championships in 2002, I knew there was no other place for us to go but America,” said Steam. "We liken it to the last unconquered territory. If you haven't extreme ironed here, you haven't truly mastered the art. Who knows what's in store for the sport next; maybe one day Olympic recognition."

For now, however, EI enthusiasts continue to push the boundaries of the sport. Just this month, according to the EI website, a group of New Zealand ironists claimed a new world record in the emerging extreme sport, underwater ironing, for the most number of people ironing under water at the same time. And in May another madcap Extreme Ironist from Britain completed a world first - ironing the North Pole.

Where will it end?

Quick Rinse - News From Around The World

Inmate Crushed By Laundry Equipment

GOOCHLAND, Va. — An inmate at the Virginia Correctional Center died when a shuttle that carried hundreds of pounds of wet laundry from washers to dryers fell upon her. The inmates were conducting repairs on the equipment when it fell and she was trapped underneath. The inmate died from her injuries at the VCU Medical Center