- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 10, 2009

ROANOKE | This story starts 30 years ago - on May 2, 1979 - when a tall, skinny college kid came to Roanoke from Radford and broke a Guinness world record.

Shattered it so completely, in fact, that it was never broken again.

On that day, bearded business major Robert Kempf consumed three lemons, cut into quarters, in just 15.3 seconds.

That included the peel, seeds, pulp and every drop of the sour, stinging juice.

Today, Mr. Kempf, 50, is a pharmaceutical sales representative, but he’s still proud of his achievement. He recently used it as the basis of a motivational presentation for children’s groups at Parkway Wesleyan Church in Roanoke. He said he presents his talks to encourage young people to achieve goals in unique ways.

Two books, he explained, form the backbone of his presentations: the Bible and “Guinness World Records.”

When Mr. Kempf was 5 years old, he said, his father used to read the well-known record book to him like a bedtime story.

“He gave me the spirit of dreaming,” he recalled. “My goal was always just to get in the book.”

How does one get in the book, which now, by the way, exists only online?

“The main thing is practice, practice, practice,” Mr. Kempf stressed.

But on that day in 1979, when Mr. Kempf competed in the Oddball Olympics, a promotional event staged by radio station WROV, he wasn’t thinking lemons at all. He had come to eat 3 pounds and 6 ounces of ice cream in less than 90 seconds, a task for which he was unusually prepared.

“For about three months, every other day, I ate 64 ice cream sandwiches … and then every other day, I’d fast or eat very little,” he said.

When the event’s lineup changed, organizers asked if he would attempt the lemon record instead. Mr. Kempf, who claims he had never eaten a lemon before then, gave it a shot and threw back all three, swallowing some sections whole and finishing 8.7 seconds faster than the previous record holder, Bob Blackmore of Kentucky.

And thus Mr. Kempf made it into the book. His name was later featured among the “fun facts” items on a box of lemon-flavored Carrington Tea.

Alas, the ice cream didn’t work out as well - time ran out just as he had put away 3 pounds, 2 ounces of ice cream, on top of the lemons.

Reggie Graham, a vice president at CRW Parts in Roanoke, met Mr. Kempf at the Oddball Olympics, and they remain friends and fellow church members today.

Mr. Graham, too, once held a world record - for eating doughnuts, 37 glazed in just over seven minutes, but it was later bested.

“I just wanted to say I did something better than anybody else in the world,” he explained, adding that he has the words “Donut King” embossed on his business cards. He claims a man in South Carolina choked to death trying to beat his record.

That raises a question about the safety of competitive eating, which Guinness retired for such reasons during the 1990s.

Mr. Kempf said his presentations encourage ambition over gluttony. There are some snacks involved, but he said his talks are more about inspiration.

“I’m in the health-care industry and I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” he said, adding that his primary rule is children should get approval from their parents before they try to break any kind of record.

Mr. Kempf’s wife, Terri, said their children, Lindsey, Laura and Jonathan, are fans of citrus as well.

“They eat lemons,” she said. “It might be genetic. I don’t have it, but they do.”

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