For about the last eight years of a 20-year teaching career that ended with her retirement in June, Penny Gold would play a game with her students that started on the first day of school.
She would wear a brand new pair of her favorite sneakers, Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars, and then wear a different pair of them every single day for the rest of the school year while her students would try to catch her wearing the same sneakers twice.
“The kids would have laptops or iPads and they would write a journal to try to catch me wearing the same ones,’’ she said. “They would joke that they got me, but they couldn’t fool me because I know I always had a different pair on.’’
Her former students may have another story to tell about their old teacher as that collection of Chucks, which is now up to 733 pairs, has the 63-year-old Florida woman in line to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest collection of Converse sneakers. On Thursday, she had help from family, friends and former students as she went through a crucial part of the process by publicly documenting her collection to be recognized as a Guinness record.
Her shoes were removed from their usual spot in her walk-in closet in her home, photographed in pairs of 24 and then loaded in plastic crates of 24 into a U-Haul rented by her husband. He and a friend then unloaded them in the multi-purpose room at the Jewish Academy of Orlando in Maitland, Fla., where she taught for 20 years. Part of the Guinness verification process is having a public showing where community members are enlisted as witnesses to a record. The only other alternative is if the person going for a record wants staff from Guinness to personally come to verify it, which Gold said can cost between $8,000 and $10,000.
Seven people helped officially count the sneakers, marking up tally sheets that are required to be sent to Guinness. The seven counters also have to submit handwritten notes to Guinness that they counted the sneakers and all came up with 733. The current record is 403 held by Joshua Mueller of Lakewood, Wash.
A spokesperson for Guinness said they have received the claim and are waiting on the evidence of the witness statements, photos and log books to verify each pair is different and a Converse shoe. It can take up to 12 weeks to verify after the documentation is received.
“It was crazy and so much fun,’’ said Gold, who jokingly autographed pictures of the sneakers for the students. “My family all thinks I'm crazy, but they love it, and they support it because I won't spend regular price on the sneakers. If you’re going to have to have a habit, this is at least a clean, healthy habit.’’
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Gold’s infatuation with Converse Chuck Taylors started when she was a teenager growing up in Brooklyn in the 1960s, when Chucks were the signature shoe of members of the New York Knicks. The shoe fit, so she decided to wear it 700 different ways, with it officially becoming an obsession about 15 years ago after three Converse outlet stores opened in the Orlando area about 25 minutes from her home. Now she is on a first-name basis with employees at the three stores, who set aside several pairs of unusual new ones for her when they come in. Employees from two of the stores were there in person during the public showing on Thursday.
Every pair she has purchased has been done in person, as she has not bought any off eBay. She usually gets sneakers that are normally $60 for about $25 a pair, and the longest she can remember going without snatching up a new pair was a month hiatus this past summer.
Gold has pairs ranging from music-themed sneakers featuring Metallica and the Doors to comic-style Chucks with Batman and Robin on them to ones with a red-and-white tablecloth design and a 3-D fried egg on them. Her prized pair is designed with a map of the New York City subway system on them that shows the stops where she used to get on and off while attending Baruch College.
Gold has never done the math in her head of how much money she has spent to acquire the collection, as she has gotten plenty of pairs as gifts over time from her students and family. She is so synonymous with the Converse brand to her friends and family that they have bought her other Converse-related items, including a Converse purse from Italy that she received as a present from a friend. Gold does not own one pair of any other brand of sneaker or one pair of any other type of Converse sneaker.
“It’s not even allowed in my closet,’’ she joked. “But I do have other shoes like a human. I mean, we do go out to nice places.’’
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Gold has sported the Chucks for special occasions, however, wearing a pair of white sparkly ones to the bar mitzvah ceremony of one of her four sons. After she passed about 600 pairs, her youngest son, Lander, emailed Guinness and told it how many pairs of Converse his mother owned. Guinness then contacted her and said that according to its records, it seemed like she had the world’s largest collection, but it would have to be verified.
While receiving plenty of local media coverage for her likely record, one entity Gold has not heard from is Converse itself.
“They're not really that interested in it,’’ she said. “My friends at the stores are, but the company is corporate and worldwide. I'm just one little person.’’
A little person who is about to be a world record-holder.
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