News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 29, 2012

Leapin’ birthdays

‘Leapers’ celebrate that once-in-4-years event today

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — As if having a Leap Year birthday isn’t unique enough, one Terre Haute teen has the type of birthday that comes around only once every 400 years.

Abigail Meehan was born at 4 a.m. on Feb. 29, 2000. That makes her a millennium baby. And the odds of that occurring are much rarer than the 1-in-1,461 chance that comes for a regular Feb. 29 birthday. Leap Years happen only in century years that are divisible by 400, such as 1600, 2000 and 2400.

Because Abby was the first baby born in Vigo County on Feb. 29, 2000, she was the first Leap Year baby born on a century year in Vigo County since at least 1600.

Abby has already celebrated today’s event with a big party last weekend. She invited 30 friends to a zebra-themed party, complete with a D.J., at the Holiday Inn.

“My dad tried to bribe me with $500 not to have a party, but I figured it out, and I chose to invite about 30 friends to celebrate with me,” she said.Unlike many people, she can remember the theme of every birthday she’s ever celebrated, because she’s had only three in her life, even though she celebrates being born every year.

When she was the conventional age 4, the theme was Strawberry Shortcake and she went roller skating. At age 8, she celebrated with her friends at the bowling alley.

She’s already planning for age 16 — she hopes to be the only “4-year-old” in town with a car!

While Abby usually finds having a Leap Year birthday to be fun and unique, it has caused a few road bumps for her. Most computer systems will not accept Feb. 29 as a valid date, causing her parents to use Feb. 28 for school and physician records.

Her mother, Amanda, said she knew that having a Leap Year baby might cause some problems for her child in the future, so she did her best to bring Abby into the world on Feb. 28, to no avail.

“I just remember pushing and pushing and pushing, trying not to have a Leap Year baby,” Amanda said this week.

But probably a more important setback, at least for Abby, is that the online social network Facebook will not accept a Leap Year birth.

“All of my friends put their birthday on Facebook, but for February, it won’t let you pick the 29th,” she said.

Abby said she doesn’t know anyone else who has her birthday. She and her classmates were assigned a report on their birthdays in fifth grade, and she was the only one who wrote about Feb. 29.

There have also been fun consequences for her birthday.

“I’ve played softball before, and they called me Leapy,” she said of her team nickname.

She also enjoys the numbers game that comes with it.

“It’s gonna be awesome when I’m 64, because I’ll only be 16!”

Abby’s youthful sentiment is shared by John Schlotterbeck, a history professor at DePauw University in Greencastle.

Schlotterbeck has been dealing with his “leaper” status for 16 birthdays. He actually turns 64 today, but is used to celebrating on Feb. 28, keeping his birthday in the same month.

“You tend to make a big deal of it every four years,” he said, but he has nothing extraordinary planned for this year.

He said he and two other infants got their photos in the newspaper in Lynn, Mass., as the Leap Year babies of 1948.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone else born on that day, however,” Schlotterbeck said.

Many Leapers don’t share their unique birthday stories, usually because the topics of birthdays don’t often come up in conversion.

Courtenay Hayes, a teacher at Ridpath Primary School in Greencastle, is not only a Leaper celebrating her 10th, or 40th, birthday today, but so is her husband — in an unofficial way.

In 1972, Courtenay and her husband Jeremy were both born in Putnam County Hospital on Feb. 29.

The family story, Courtenay said, is that Jeremy was born a few minutes past midnight on Feb. 29. His parents were asked if they wanted to have a “Leap Year baby,” she said, and they chose to go with Feb. 28 to avoid any future hassles.

Courtenay, however, was born later in the day.

Though the mothers of Jeremy and Courtenay knew each other at the time, the young couple didn’t get to know each other until they met for the first time in middle school. And the birthday issue didn’t crop up for a while.

“I don’t even remember how it came up,” Courtenay said. “It’s kind of a weird thing. It was never that big of a deal.”

She said she can remember being teased about it as a child when she turned 8. People would tell her she was really only 2. And later in college, she found out that one of her best friends was also a Leap Year baby.

Another Greencastle resident, Bill Ford, will be having his “10th” birthday today as well.

Bill was born at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis at 1:33 a.m. The newborn and his mother received celebrity treatment and publicity by the local media.

Bill’s wife, Bethany, is excited about his birthday this year, and has organized a youthful Transformers-themed birthday party for Bill at his brother Ryan’s house in Mooresville. As an actual 10-year-old, Transformers were Bill’s favorite toys, so it seemed appropriate for his 10th Leap Year birthday, as well, Bethany said.

Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com.