Amherst Magazine

Summer Stunt

By Emily Gold Boutilier

Photo by Rob Mattson

[Ambition] Niahlah Hope ’15 spent much of the summer training to break a world record. While other students were interning in an office, or traveling the world, or studying for the LSAT, she was perfecting her backflip.

Niahlah Hope '15

The gymnast, cheerleader and diver went home to Far Rockaway, N.Y., to train to break the Guinness world record for consecutive back handsprings. Hope’s effort began last year, when she saw a video about Texas high-school cheerleader Miranda Ferguson, whose 35 flips on a football field in October 2012 earned her the record. “I thought it was pretty cool,” Hope says. “I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I could beat it.’”

Hope is an economics and environmental studies major who aspires to be a stunt performer. She’s worked as an extra in movies—including, this summer, The Amazing Spider-Man 2. But her interests are varied: She’s also considering careers in business, finance and air traffic control.

After seeing the Ferguson video, Hope applied to Guinness World Records Gone Wild, a reality show in which would-be record holders make their attempts in front of an audience. In April she got a call from a California number that she didn’t recognize. It was someone from the show, which airs on the cable network truTV. “They asked me if I was still trying to break the record,” Hope says. “At the time I wasn’t, but I said, ‘I’ll train for it.’”

To build up her strength, she sprinted and lifted weights. Her regimen also included diving and “AntiGravity yoga”—yoga practiced in a silk hammock suspended off the ground. In addition, she interned this summer at AntiGravity, Inc., an acrobatic performance troupe.

And she did a lot of handsprings. “I do get dizzy,” she said in mid-June, weeks away from her official attempt, “but I don’t really feel it until I stop flipping.”

Her training culminated on July 11, when she arrived—unfortunately, with a newly sprained wrist—at a production studio in California.

Hope had to do at least 36 back handsprings with no breaks in between. But her injury—and her full stomach—caught up with her, forcing her to stop at 22.  

Despite a long nine hours on set, she’s  glad she made the trip, in part because she got to see other records get broken (she’s not allowed to reveal which ones).

And she might make a second attempt at the backflip title. “They want me to come back next year,” she says.