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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Local ‘Leapers’ celebrate their rare birth date in creative ways

In 46 B.C., Julius Caesar, dictator for life and noted fan of time-keeping, modified the Roman calendar to include Leap Year days, adding a “quadrennial intercalary” day – an extra day every four years – in order to better ensure the calendar’s alignment with the changing seasons.

Locals Graham Gustafson, Mackenzie Simpson and Michele Carmack shared some of their experiences growing up with such a rare birth date.

“When my 21st birthday finally rolls around, I’ll be celebrating it in a nursing home because I’ll be 84 years old,” Gustafson said.

“It’s definitely been hard to explain,” Simpson said, “to little kids especially. Like, ‘Oh yeah, I only have a birthday once every four years.’ It does not get through at all.”

Carmack has always celebrated her non-Leap Year birthdays on March 1, which hasn’t always gone over well. One of the drawbacks of having to celebrate your birthday on a different date is that restaurants often refuse to recognize the date change, Carmack said.

She particularly remembered being rather rudely asked whether she even had a birthday. “It did make me feel like more of an individual, though,” Carmack said. “I’ve enjoyed it.”

Simpson and her family, all big Disney fans, have made it a tradition of celebrating her birthdays at Disney World in Florida. “We usually celebrate my birthday on the 28th of February when it’s not a Leap Year,” Simpson said.

“When it is a Leap Year, we obviously celebrate a little more.” She and her friends started celebrating her birthday last weekend by participating in a half-marathon during the 2020 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.

Simpson remembered having trouble getting the right date on her driver license because the year she would turn 21 wasn’t a Leap Year. “People always think my ID is fake,” Simpson said.

“I actually called the police once, I was so mad. It was my first time going to this place down in Florida. I have a Washington ID, of course, so the bouncer was like, ‘Nope, I’m not letting you in, this is fake, no one has that birthday,” even though it scanned in and everything.”

Famous “Leapers” include Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini, basketball player Tony Robbins and Frederic from Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance.” There are approximately 187,000 Leapers living in the U.S. today and another 4 million across the globe.

“It’s a great ice breaker,” Gustafson said. He’s never at a loss for a good conversation starter. “It usually takes a second and then, ‘Oh! Feb. 29! I’ve never met anyone with that birthday before.’ ”

Despite the rareness of Leap Day birthdays, there were very nearly two in the Gustafson family.

“My sister’s birthday is actually March 1,” Gustafson said. “So for me one of the funniest things about having this particular birthday is that my sister and I were born on the same day of the year but have different birthdays because she was born three years after me.”

This year Gustafson and his sister will both be able to celebrate on their birth dates. Carmack and Gustafson remembered their “4th birthdays” particularly well. Carmack traveled with friends: “We went to a bar, I couldn’t drink, of course, but I remember feeling very excited sitting there with an X on my hand.”

“When I turned 20, my college friends planned a big surprise party, (and) I got my face smashed in my ‘Happy 4th Birthday’ cake,” Gustafson said. “Now that was pretty memorable.”

All three have big plans for their Leap Day birthdays on Saturday and look forward to many more.

“I have high hopes for making it to my 50th birthday,” Carmack said laughing.

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