End poverty? Bring about world peace? Cure cancer? Ted Batchelor’s personal goal isn’t so lofty. He wants to impress you by setting himself on fire.
The 51–year–old native of Chagrin Falls, Ohio is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the Longest Full–Body Burn Without Oxygen (2 minutes, 38 seconds), and for Most People on Fire Simultaneously (17).
Kids, don’t try this at home.
Batchelor makes his daredevil debut in Savannah Saturday, Aug. 14 at Grayson Stadium, following the Sand Gnats’ game against the Kannapolis Intimidators.
Usually, the baseball game ends with a crew of Sand Gnats staffers doing the “Cha Cha Slide.”
On Saturday, “one lucky fan” will win the honor of lighting Ted Batchelor on fire. Then he’ll run the bases (it should take about 60 seconds) before his wife, Debbie, puts him out with a portable extinguisher. Then there’ll be a fireworks display.
Batchelor has been “burning” since he was in high school. He was famous among his peers for taking dares and performing dangerous stunts, “like getting hit by a car or skateboarding down a big hill.” As a teen, he had aspirations of working as a movie stuntman.
“One of the big things these days is the challenge of it,” Batchelor explains. “Now, to be the top person in the world doing this, and holding all the Guinness world records, that is something that I never thought I could achieve.
“I almost gave it up a couple times, but then I would go and do a stunt somewhere and it would give me like a re–birth to keep on doing it.”
Wearing a 60–pound body suit and hood made of wool and cotton (“it absorbs the fuel”), he’s doused in a mixture of naptha and other highly flammable chemicals. Underneath, he’s well–greased with a special gel that protects his skin from the intense heat.
Batchelor has a couple of ready answers for the simple question “Why?,” which seems logical enough.
“A lot of times it’s for the money, to get paid for doing a stunt, and to put on a show for the crowd,” he explains. “It’s like any entertainer, you want to put on a good show and give them something that they rarely get to see.”
OK, but jugglers and tap–dancers, for example, don’t risk third–degree burns for the sake of entertainment.
“The adrenaline rush is a big reason,” he continues. “It’s mainly challenging myself to keep doing it – and it’s the same feeling every time I do it – I’m very scared, every time. As is the whole crew. But then when it’s over it’s like the greatest feeling. And the adrenaline is there for at least a couple days. That’s an amazing feeling, there.”
As a junior at Chagrin Falls High, Batchelor dreamed one night that he was diving from the township’s natural waterfall – a 25–foot–drop – into the Chagrin River.
All the kids did it, all the time. “But in the dream I was on fire,” he recalls. “It was so strange. I was like, ‘What did that even mean?’ In the dream, it even showed me how to do it. It sounds so corny when I say it.”
His friends dared him; money changed hands. So he fashioned a crude protective suit out of old denim – “it was the ‘70s, but polyester would’ve melted onto me” – and, as a special flourish, added a rakish cape and a French beret.
He made the leap successfully, and repeated it annually for few years until the town council outlawed the stunt. In 2006, however, he was permitted to perform a 30th anniversary fire dive off Chagrin Falls. There’s a video of the event at www.tedbatchelor.com.
Although he’s never been seriously burned, Batchelor says the danger is always there.
“You never perfect it,” he admits. “Because fire has a way of finding its own way in. That’s the challenge.
“I never do it thinking hey, this is gonna be fine. I always dread that something could go wrong. So we double–check and triple–check everything.”
Ted Batchelor performs following this Saturday night’s game at Grayson Stadium.