For those who may not know what a "leaper" is, they are the folks who figuratively age four times slower than the rest of us. That's because they are born on Feb. 29, which would be today if it weren’t March 1, but only comes around once every four years.
As you can imagine, that creates a bit of a conundrum — such as, when to celebrate on non-leap years. According to a Google search, this situation affects about 187,000 Americans and about 4 million people worldwide. That's a whole lot of leapers, and some of them are in Robeson County.
Elizabeth Maynor Blue of Rowland was born on Feb. 29, 1979, and she celebrates her birthday on Feb. 28 on non-leap years.
"... it can be oddly annoying at times," she said. "I'm always being asked how old I really am, and I tell them that I've had eight birthdays but I have the mind, body and soul of a soon-to-be 33-year-old."
Blue also said it gets annoying when people think she should celebrate her birthday on March 1 because, "I wasn't born in March."
Tristan Richardson, a student at Littlefield Middle School, was born Feb. 29, 1996, and his photograph appeared on the front page of The Robesonian on March 3, 1996, for being a leap year baby. Since then, he has celebrated his birthday on March 1.
"I think being born on leap day is kinda cool," Richardson said. "I celebrate my birthday today because my mom says I wasn't here on Feb. 28."
Carolyn Fay Godwin of Lumberton was born Feb. 29, 1952, and she has celebrated three-fourths of her birthdays on Feb. 28.
"I guess the most flack I get for my birthday is from the guys at the DMV, who tell me I'm not old enough to get my driver's license," Godwin said. "My family also gets a kick out of it because I am a teenage grandmother."
Richard Hewitt, who was also born Feb. 29, 1952, in Virginia and lived in Lumberton for three years as a child, has solved the when-to-celebrate question in a unique way.
“When there is a leap year, I celebrate on Feb. 29," said Hewitt, who now lives in Raleigh. "When there isn't a leap year, I celebrate twice — on Feb. 28 and March 1."
Is there a right time to celebrate a leap-year birthday when those other three years roll around? As a matter of fact, there is, according to Cecil Adams. In his "Straight Dope" column (www.straightdope.com; keyword "birthdays"), Adams says there is a simple, mathematical equation to figuring out when your birthday candles should be lit.
“To figure the right day to celebrate your birthday, you add 365 days and six hours to the hour of your birth," Adams said. That's because an official year is exactly 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds long.
Sounds simple, right?
Take, for instance, those people who were born Feb. 28 at 4 a.m. They are supposed to celebrate all of the non-leap year birthdays on Feb. 27, but it's a safe bet they didn't.
And if you were born Feb. 29, 1972 (for example), at 10 p.m., then your first birthday should have been celebrated on March 1, 1973, at 4 a.m. Your second and third birthdays also fell on March 1 at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., respectively. Your fourth birthday, however, would have been back where it started — Feb. 29, 1976, at 10 p.m.
All of this is confused further by the fact that leap years don't automatically come around every four years. The rule for figuring a leap year are those years divisible by four; however, years divisible by 100 are not leap years unless they are also divisible by 400. In an effort to make that a little clearer: The years 2004 and 2008 were leap years, and the years 2100, 2200 and 2300 will not be.
Aside from the mathematics of it all, there are those who will use the non-leap years to torment a leaper — even parents.
“On non-leap years, my mother would sometimes say that I had been a bad girl that year and so she took my birthday away," says Jody Doty of Pinehurst, who was born Feb. 29, 1956. "She was a funny lady.
"Last year, my husband went to the florist and asked for 13 roses and 'Happy 13th Birthday' put on the card," she said. "When he was asked if they were for his daughter, he told her it was for his wife. The woman looked at him funny, then realized what was going on. Turns out she is a leap year baby, too."
Kristin Radcliff of Greenville, S.C., says she loves being a leap-year baby.
"It's a great conversation starter," she said. "It's fun receiving silly cards that say 'Happy 7th Birthday' when you're almost 30, and it's an instant bond when I meet another leaper."
Gerald "Trey" Tripp of Angier was born Feb. 29, 2004, and his mother Lolita says she doesn't mind that her son is a leap-year baby.
"Until I have to deal with things like insurance or other companies with automated answering systems," she said. "When I key in his Feb. 29 birth date, the system tells me it's invalid. So I always have to try and talk to a real person."
She adds that her son turned 1.25 years old this weekend — in leap years, of course.
Whether you enjoy the fact that you were born on a day that appears only once every four years or not, the odds are 1,460 to one against being born on Feb. 29. That makes those who are special.
— W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 272-6148 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.