The Secret World of Extreme Ironing

Some people take their ironing very seriously. My mother, for one, will iron anything in sight : socks, underwear, dishrags, even used gift wrapping. Ironing gives her the satisfaction of taking something unkempt and making it right.

Then there are people who take ironing to new heights. Literally. Like mountain tops. That's right, these thrill seekers carry their ironing boards and irons up the sides of mountains so they can experience the exhilaration of ironing their unmentionables in the great outdoors. They call it extreme ironing. Think I'm kidding? Wait till it becomes an Olympic sport.

OK, it may not become an Olympic sport anytime soon. And there is debate over whether it is a sport at all. But it is very real with a growing number of neatly dressed enthusiasts jumping into the fray.

It all began in England, of course, a country with a proud tradition of eccentrics. The first known act of extreme ironing was believed to have been performed in 1997 by one Phil Shaw, a factory worker from Leicester, England. As the story goes, he was an avid rock climber who came home one evening to a backlog of pressing pressing. Having been looking forward to an evening rock climb instead, he decided to combine the two activities by taking his ironing board and laundry with him. Some would call it the ultimate act of multi-tasking.

Apparently thinking he was on to something that would excite the world, Shaw embarked on a worldwide tour in 1999, climbing and ironing across South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Proving that the world was indeed hungry, if not desperate, for a new sport, it actually caught on and rival teams were formed including the German Extreme Ironing Section, the Austrian Extreme Ironing Team, Extreme Ironing Japan and the Extreme Ironing Bureau. Extreme ironing even inspired another new sport - extreme vacuuming. How long before these two are combined with, oh I don't know, say, dusting? to create a new kind of triathlon? Gives new meaning to the term "Iron Man."

Variations on the sport include taking your ironing board bungee jumping, onto icebergs, and deep sea diving. Cuts down on the need for steam, I suppose.

The sport was all but legitimized by a television documentary produced for Britain's Channel 4 and later aired on the National Geographic Channel. It must have been the mother of all slow news days.

What these "extreme ironers" don't know is that my mother invented her own version of extreme ironing ages ago when she began ironing while playing Scrabble.

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