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Youth’s icy cold adventure earns some cool recognition

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By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 28, 2001


The day his family decided to go to Antarctica last December was the day Tampa's Mario Casuga II started dreaming of a white Christmas.

But he never dreamed the trip would put him in the same category with a guy who can use his ears as slingshots, a woman with legs that measure 49.75 inches and a man who has collected more than 15 grams of his own navel fluff.

Casuga, 12, had barely seen snow, so a trip to Antarctica was inviting. More importantly, the journey would help the Casuga family -- father Mario and mother Rebecca -- complete a unique feat: visiting all seven continents.

The Casugas spent a few days in Buenos Aires and then made their way to Ushuaia, Argentina, also known as the tip of the world, to catch a boat to Antarctica.

As the boat made its way from Ushuaia through the Drake Passage to Antarctica, he began to ask himself whether the trip was worth it. You see, the passage is known as the roughest sea in the world.

"I learned that the hard way," Mario said. "I was very seasick. I could barely stand up without wobbling to and fro."

The trip proved worthy in more ways than one, however. Casuga got a chance to see majestic glaciers, playful penguins in the wild and two research stations. More importantly, the trip made Casuga a world record holder.

In April, Casuga's father began wondering if his son had accomplished a milestone. He contacted the Guinness World Records Ltd. in London and told his story.

A former Air Force administration specialist, the elder Casuga received the chance to travel anywhere in the world twice a year because he was stationed in Saudi Arabia. After retiring, he realized he had taken his wife and son to more than 40 countries on six of the world's seven continents.

The travelogue included pictures from China, New Zealand, Brazil, Egypt, Canada, France, Russia, Thailand, the Bahamas and Niagara Falls.

"We could've bought a decent four-bedroom, three-bath house with all the money spent going around the globe," the elder Casuga said. But his wife said the trips were "priceless" and "well worth it."

Antarctica completed the cycle, and Casuga discovered the Guinness folks actually had an entry for youngest person to visit all seven continents: 15-year-old David Svec of Metairie, La.

The Casugas sent documentation of Mario's travels to London. It took a while, but this summer he finally got word his son would be included in the book. A certificate arrived at their North Tampa home weeks later and on Tuesday, the family purchased the book and found Mario's name on page 267. It's the last entry in the book, but it's there.

"It's a great, great honor," said Mario, who attends Most Holy Redeemer Catholic School. "I don't feel famous, but it's cool. When I got the certificate, I showed everyone at school."

As far as his travels, Mario said, "It's allowed me to be more open-minded. I'm not as prejudiced as some people I know."

That perspective is even better than being recognized in the same book with the guy who balanced 75 one-pint glasses on his chin for 10.6 seconds and the guy who ate 36 cockroaches in a minute.

* * *

SOME QUICK HITS: The Sickle Cell Association of Hillsborough County plays host to 2001 Evening of Jazz tonight at the Marriott Westshore. ... Ace Golf Ranges in Tampa and Brandon are giving people a chance to hit a golf ball at an 8-foot billboard of Osama bin Laden. The range is donating 10 percent of golf ball bucket sales from Oct. 2-8 to New York City's Silver Shield fund. ... CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren is in town today to deliver the keynote address at the Federal Bar Association's Media & Law Video Conference Seminar. ... U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson visits troops today at MacDill Air Force Base.

-- Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com. His column appears on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

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