MYRTLE BEACH — One word gets stuck in your mind watching Erik Kloecker at work: Gulp.
Kloecker is a sword swallower, and on Saturday afternoon, he downed a blade on the porch of Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium on Ocean Boulevard to celebrate the sixth annual World Sword Swallower’s Day.
At 2:23:13, the small crowd who paused in the dreary weather to watch him counted down from 10 and Kloecker went to work at the time that matched the date. When the perhaps 2 1/2-foot blade disappeared as far as it could go and the hilt rested on the top of his mouth, he bent down onto one knee and had onlooker Sandra O’Connor pull it out.
“That was scary,” she said afterward. “I was afraid I was going to hurt him.”
Kloecker had O’Conner practice once as he held the blade between his thumb and forefinger. She twisted it ever so slightly pulling it out then, and he had to warn her that she needed to take it straight out as a twist wouldn’t be pleasant.
O’Connor did as she was told, saying afterward that she could feel the sword against his esophagus and hear him gag softly as she drew it out.
Kloecker, 23, began teaching himself to swallow swords when he was 16, after watching his older brother do it.
He started with a coat hanger, he said, bending it at an angle, just so in case he gagged and lurched forward, it would pop out of rather than into his throat. One of the first things he learned when he was teaching himself, he said, was that the opening from the throat to the esophagus isn’t the only place where humans have a gag reflex.
There are points spaced all the way down the esophagus, with the last being at the opening to the stomach.
Kloecker is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest sword swallower, but gulping blades isn’t his only talent. He’s also a juggler – he started that at 13 – and a fire eater, both of which he performed Saturday to warm up the crowd for the main event.
Performing the unusual runs in his family, he said. His great-grandfather rode motorcycles around the wheel of death and would wrestle anyone who wanted to take him on.
Kloecker said he began juggling after seeing a juggler perform at the Kentucky State Fair, and his prowess in it has earned him a second Guinness record for juggling while he was suspended upside down. He expects to be mentioned in the 2013 edition for performing the longest juggle of three full-size axes.
The swords he swallows have dull blades, but those that he juggles must be sharp.
“You could swallow a sharp sword,” he said, “but only once.”
The esophagus is naturally constricted and he must fight the gag reflexes on each swallow.
He said he works every weekend year-round and while he doesn’t get rich, he makes enough to buy a car and house.
Yes, he said, sword swallowers can get a condition known as “sword throat” which is characterized by bruising and inflammation.
It’s not a permanent condition, he said.
But undoubtedly a memorable one.
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.