By Len Ferman
When the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly shut down the sports world in March, Emily Moore, director of the World Joggling Championships (running while juggling) had a back-up plan ready to go. Several months earlier a brainstorming session had developed the idea of an online championships in which competitors submit videos of their performances. The idea was thought to be useful for enabling people who could not travel to the championships to participate. However, in mid-March, Emily suddenly realized that the online submissions could be used as a way to save the 2020 World Joggling Championships, scheduled to take place in July, from postponement or cancellation. Implementing the idea brilliantly, Emily staged a highly successful event in July that resulted in several world records and a thoroughly entertaining highlight reel:
Each year the International Jugglers’ Association (IJA) stages many competitions including the World Joggling Championships. Joggling is running while juggling 3 or more objects. The championships are usually held each July in the format of a traditional track meet on a 400 meter oval. Several events are conducted such as the 100 meters with 3 balls and the 400 meters with 5 balls. There are not a lot of jogglers, but many who participate are serious competitors. Some of the performances at the championships have been truly astonishing such as last year in Ft. Wayne, Indiana when Eric Walter set a new world record in the 800 meter 3 ball event in 2:13.0.
Brainstorming Leads to an Idea for the Future
Shortly after the 2019 championships, Emily Moore, the director of the World Joggling Championships asked me to lead a brainstorming session to identify ways to improve the Championships for 2020 which were scheduled to take place at University of Texas at El Paso. I was happy to provide my services pro bono so I set up a couple of ZOOM meetings (yes, I was one of the few pre-pandemic ZOOM users).
In the spirit of brainstorming we explored all types of “crazy” ideas that would help overcome some of the challenges jogglers had experienced in the past or expected to experience in El Paso. We discussed holding the track meet at midnight to escape the sun and heat. Late night juggling has always been a standard part of juggling festivals. And then Sterling Franklin, who had just competed at the 2019 joggling championships for the first time, put forth the radical notion of allowing video submissions. Sterling remembered the moment, “I thought the online implementation could be a plus for people who would not be near enough to the festival to attend in-person, but would still want to put up competitive times in their favorite events. I wasn’t expecting a pandemic to be in play when we were thinking of potential ideas for the world championships!”
The idea of video submissions sounded intriguing. But it wasn’t given much thought. Gabrielle Foran, a multiple gold-medalist at past joggling championships was in the brainstorming session and recalls, “The idea of an online championship was developed as a method to include additional events that would not fit into the time constraints of the live event and to allow people who may not be able to travel to participate.”
After the session the online championship idea went into the archive of things to consider for the future.
And Then Came the Future
On the evening March 11th the world changed. In the course of an hour I learned that the NBA had postponed their season, beloved actor Tom Hanks had tested positive and was in an Australian hospital, the World Health Organization had declared a pandemic, and the University of North Florida, where I teach, was moving to remote instruction. At that moment, status of the World Joggling Championships was not top of mind for me, but it was for Emily Moore who quickly sprang to action. She recalls, “I thought how amazingly timely it was that we had discussed the online option, before we even knew it would become vital in 2020.”
A New Championships Plan
Within a day Emily had the outline of the plan for how the online joggling championships would take place:
- WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP EVENTS – These would be standard joggling performances in which the athletes participating would need to meet a list of verification requirements. The format would be similar to how Guinness verifies a world record via video submission.
- FUN RUN – for the first time ever there would be a “fun run” category for people who simply want to joggle for the sake of participation. This category would allow for creative entries that would not be considered for medals or world records, however it would enable their name to be on the event website for informal recognition. They would also receive a participation certificate.
This plan leveraged several different ideas that had come from the brainstorming sessions (see appendix). It allowed the championships to be more inclusive. It also enabled for more events and even the opportunity for participants to create their own new events.
Next, Emily had to dive into the details to design the new online championships. “I considered the critical components and resources for a typical in-person event. The needs were very different this time: there’d be no need to book a venue, prepare the usual consumables (bibs, snacks/drinks, hard-copy waivers), or arrange transportation. Since there’d be no timing of athletes in multiple lanes, a single person could review the videos at their leisure, and fewer volunteers were necessary. In terms of resources, it boiled down to us only needing a sign-up form and waiver, plus a submission method. I decided to do both as Qualtrics surveys, so I could have the links more easily distributable in different media platforms (the IJA website, e-newsletter, Facebook), as well as by email.”
Before she finalized the rules, Emily solicited some help. “A few jogglers were willing to beta-test the event and send me early footage as a proof-of-concept. Based on some potential concerns I was seeing (video resolution, reliability in timing/framing, etc.), we made adjustments.
Launch of the Online Championships
On June 3rd, the 2020 Online World Joggling Championships were officially opened with a link to the website containing all of the instructions for entries to be submitted. All submissions had to be made by July 18th, the date that the championships were originally supposed to have taken place. Sterling Franklin was very excited by the new format. “I submitted 15 runs, LOL. It felt like a huge puzzle, and it was fun strategizing as to what times I could shoot for, how to pace each event, what workouts to do beforehand.”
JoAnn Ireland was similarly pleased to hear the news, “I thought it was great that the IJA joggling championships would be virtual, it would give more individuals an opportunity to compete given that the IJA festival was not taking place in El Paso. Plus, there was more flexibility as far as when you could joggle, and we all didn’t have to joggle on the same date or at the same time.” JoAnn went on to compete in 9 events and recorded the 4th best all-time joggle in the women’s masters 100 meter 3 ball event in 21.24 seconds.
Competitors Share Their Stories
Finding a place to film a “joggle” on a verified track or course was a challenge for some contestants. I did not have access to a track in Jacksonville, Florida. Luckily a road near my home had been measured using a road racing wheel by a local race director and he graciously provided me with a letter certifying the marks were accurate. I had my wife Heather film my submission in the 400 meter 3 ball event for masters men.
Filming the joggling submission was another issue for some competitors. Sterling Franklin used a 360 camera with a head mount and had some COVID realities to contend with. “Since I haven’t gotten a haircut since last year, I had issues with the head mount staying put, so I had a few runs where my camera flew off my head!” Sterling was able to get his camera steady enough to set a world record in the 600 meter 3 ball event in a time of 1:44.9.
Others simply found the online championships an enjoyable alternative to the staid traditional championship meet. Mike Moore said his favorite part of the experience was “being able to submit more niche events (in the fun run) and challenge friends to them.”
Some jogglers were able to meet up with others to assist each other in the filming. Barry Goldmeier, one of the legends of the sport, who has competed in joggling across five decades reported, “I ran the races virtually this year with JoAnn Ireland. We live about 40 minutes from each other and basically met in between. We handled it like a typical joggling race, but nothing is really typical these days. We had all the suggested distances listed and we went thru them all other than the 7 ball race.” NOTE: Barry Goldmeier finished the LA Marathon Sunday, March 8th just days before the shutdown. He ran in a Kobe Bryant jersey bouncing three basketballs for the entire 26.2 miles.
When the submission period was over there was one more challenge. All the videos had to be reviewed and difficult decisions made regarding whether performances would be accepted based on the rules. Results were announced by July 26th. Below is a link to the complete results:
In terms of performance highlights ( in addition to those already mentioned), Michael Bergeron set the new 5K world record at 16:49.7. Emily remarked, “He had been working toward it for several years now, and it was just great to see him pull this off at our online event this year. He also had a great team of supporters cycling the track with him, who livestreamed his run with fun commentary.”
Chris Fowler also beat the 100 meter 3 shot put (5 kg metal balls) world record of joggling with a time of 15.96 seconds. This event is recognized by www.recordholders.org, and Chris’s trial had wonderful videography taken by a 360 degree camera.
The Online World Joggling Championships were so successful that some jogglers are already calling for an online component to remain a part of future championships. Sterling Franklin said, “I hope we have more online events in the future, perhaps as an addition to an in-person event. The online component opens up a lot of opportunity around the world for people to participate in future events, even if they may never have heard of the IJA at this point in time.”
Emily Moore found a lot of surprising benefits from the online championships. “The global participation brought an amazing level of diversity – we just had to make a video montage to showcase everyone’s unique talent.”
Here is the entertaining 2 minute highlights video:
Now that the championships are over, Emily says, “If you have an idea that you think could work, don’t give up on it. There’s always a way, as long as there’s interest. See if you can find supporters, and give it a try – It could be the biggest hit ever.” Emily had lots of supporters that she wishes to thank for this year’s success: “I am grateful to everyone for making this happen. I’d especially like to thank Sterling Franklin, my husband Mike, as well as David Cain who kindly volunteered to send out medals, and all the International Jugglers’ Association members that helped promote joggling including Martin Frost, Don Lewis, Mike Sullivan, Matan Presberg, Afton Benson, and many others.”
At the beginning of March, no one forecasted that the World Joggling Championships would be held as an online only event. Thanks to a process of continuous innovation, championship director Emily Moore was able to pivot quickly when the world turned upside down. The end result was something special that will likely leave a lasting change on the joggling championships for the better in the coming years.
About the author:
Len Ferman is an adjunct professor of management at the University of North Florida where he teaches business creativity and innovation.
He is also a 7 time gold medalist at the IJA World Joggling Championships. Len once held the IJA record for the 3 ball 800 meter joggling event in 2:23. In addition, Len served as the IJA Joggling Championships director from 2010 – 2014.
Len is also the father of David Ferman, who won the IJA Juniors Stage Championship in 2011 and is the former world record holder for juggling 10 balls.
Here are some of the original brainstorming session ideas that are clearly reflected in the online joggling championships:
|Idea Name||Idea Description|
|Joggling over many days||If there were several days that races were spread across, it would be fun for a few jogglers who don’t juggle competitively (trick/sport/performance juggling) and might result in better area-respective times across a wider variety of distances, If you have shorter track distances early on, a 3K the next day, a 5K the next day, 10K, etc.|
|Joggling any time||Open-track option w/ timers — if you want to shoot for a specific time or record or Top 10 all-time at something, you could have a day where you have timers available to verify distance and times, and maybe a running camera or something, and have it a la carte. e.g. ‘*Shows up during open hours* Hey, I want to run a 200m for a time’|
|Video submission||Have a few video submission distances (maybe one short, one long) — e.g. during the month of ___, competition = best submitted and verifiable (recorded in full w/ 2+ timers) time at a specific distance. Best time wins the Online 2020 ___ meter. That might be good for people in non-Southwestern areas.|
|Double Session||Two sessions for joggling so some could be in gym and some at a track or other location. Enables distance runners to get official distance times vs. jogglers in the gym that could try things like 7 ball. Attract more people.|
|Open Joggling||Open track over multiple days so people can show up and get at time in a specific distance “on demand”|
|Creative Joggling||Creative joggling that generates more interest to watch. Like different props. 4 ball joggling. Or joggling backwards. Have other types of competition use other types of juggling patterns to attract the non-joggling jugglers at IJA|
|Create a Track||Verify distance using a measuring wheel and create our “own track” in a park or parking lot. Saves money over renting a track. Could be closer to IJA.|
|Joggling Games||Joggling “Games” as a separate event from the joggling championships competition|