Locals `leap' into legendary birthdays every Feb. 29.
LANCASTER - Can you imagine residing on this planet for 100 years, only to turn 25 on your last birthday? To be forever young is a wish that most of us may harbor, but this wish is a reality for leap year babies.
Lancaster's Kyle McElheney is one of them.
"It's great," he said of turning 5 this year. "It's kind of scary, you know, that realization that `Wow, I'm growing up.'"
McElheney, who is really 20, is doing well. He is a junior psychology major at St. Michael's College in Vermont.
His mother, Nancy McElheney, said she never wanted a leap year baby.
"My sister-in-law and I were pregnant at the same time. I was due in April and she was due the beginning of March," she said. "I remember she said she wanted a leap year baby and I thought why would you ever want that? That poor kid!"
Kyle came into the world seven weeks early at 41/2 pounds and ready to go.
"He hasn't stopped since," Nancy said. "He does everything."
This active collegiate said, as a child, he didn't really know any other "leapers."
"People always thought it was really cool," he said. "They would say things like `Oh, wow! I've never met a leap year baby before.'"
At the university, however, he's run into a few other "technicality tots."
"Last year, there were four of us, but this year I know two other kids who have leap year birthdays," McElheney said. "I guess we're going to have a regular party on Friday. I think everyone's going to come out and celebrate."
The recently initiated Psi Chi member said not having a birthday every year actually wasn't an issue.
"It wasn't that big of a deal when I didn't have a birthday," McElheney said. "I would just celebrate it on Feb. 28 or March 1. When I did have an actual birthday, I got more presents and more attention."
"We would have a big party every four years," she said. "But, every other year he had about five different parties because everyone would feel so bad for him."
Another "lucky leapling" is Anne McLaughlin, human resource manager at the Perkins School in Lancaster.
Like McElheney, McLaughlin said that her birthday was always something of an event.
"When leap year doesn't come around, I celebrate my birthday on Feb. 28," she said. "But, because other people weren't exactly sure when to celebrate it, I received gifts from the end of February into March. And, every four years, there would be a big affair."
This year, McLaughlin is planning to head out to New York City for a weekend visit to her son.
"I think this year will be the most memorable birthday," she said.
"There are actually a lot of people with leap year birthdays," McLaughlin said. "You'd be surprised."
And there are. You can find groups, gatherings and even conventions were leapers can come together and celebrate their youth.
"I think there's a big one (convention) in Arizona this year," she said. "I don't know if I would go, though."
One thing McLaughlin does know is the folklore of this special day, which she said could have possibly originated in Ireland.
"During a leap year, it's permissible that a woman asks a man to marry," McLaughlin said. "I also heard that it's bad luck to marry during a leap year."
As far as her luck, McLaughlin said she never got teased about her birthday technicality.
"Leap year birthdays have always peeked people's curiosity," she said.
However, she did admit to some difficulties regarding official red tape.
"I had a hard time renewing my driver's license. The computer wouldn't accept Feb. 29 as my birthday. It just wouldn't compute," McLaughlin explained. "It took a long time to straighten out, but now it recognizes March 1 as the date. Since computers have become so involved with our documentation, it can be a problem."
Does she think this bout of bad luck spoils her unique birthday or is luck inherent due to this potentially Irish tradition?
"I think it would nice," she said regarding her fortunate fate. "It's a nice philosophy to be considered lucky."
John King another Lancaster leaper also feels rather blessed.
"I feel I've been very lucky throughout my whole life," he said. "I have a healthy family and good job. I don't know how much luckier you can get."
King, a member of the Lancaster Planning Board, shares his birthday with his two sisters, Sheila and Sharon. The King triplets have been in the news since they were born.
"This year we're having a small party," King said. "Usually we celebrate on whichever day is more convenient, Feb. 28 or March 1. As you get older, (the novelty) all kind of wears off."
Like McLaughlin, King occasionally runs into problems.
"You don't realize how many people actually forget there are 29 days in February," he said. "People look at your license and assume it's a fake."
Even as a child, King received a little flak for his unique status.
"If there's anything different, it gives somebody a reason to give you some slack. We used to get teased with things like, `You're really only 4,' or `you're really only 2.' It was kind of a big joke. "
One thing that he got teased for was a television interview he and his sisters did in 1976.
"We were on TV and it was neat because there were TV cameras taping us getting out of the car and at school," he said. But, despite his status as local celebrity, he said his fellow classmates gave him a hard time.
Now, King said even his children have joined in the fun.
"Our kids laugh at us because we're only 11," he said. "My son is 12 and when I tell him it's time to go to bed he says, `You're only 11. You're only a year older than me.'"
CUTLINE: (1) Kyle McElheney; (2) Anne McLaughlin
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|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Feb 29, 2008|
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