By Josette Keelor
Front Royal resident Tommy Heslep has had a few nail-biting moments on TV.
In "American Ninja Warrior" two years ago, he ran an obstacle course, and in a video at RecordSetter.com, he uses nothing but arm strength to prevent two small airplanes from taking flight.
Tonight, America will see him sink his teeth into something new at 8 p.m. on the TruTV show "Guinness World Records Unleashed," when Heslep will pull nails out of wooden boards with his teeth.
To break the previous world record, the 40-year-old sanitation engineer for the Town of Front Royal's Public Works Department said he had to pull 10 nails in a minute.
"I'm not allowed to say how many I did," he said.
When he first was asked to be on the show, producers wanted him to hang from a fire hose, but he told them he thought it was too dangerous.
They called him back to see if he would hang from a pull-up bar, and he said he would. They flew him out to Santa Monica, Calif., but the episode was canceled.
When they called a third time, as luck would have it, they suggested to him one of his own tricks.
He was slamming 16-inch penny nails into a board with his hand a few years ago when he wondered if he could pull them back out with his teeth. The boards he was using were thicker than the ones Guinness requires, and that's a good thing considering he chipped a tooth training for two months with the wrong kind.
"I had to back off a little bit for that," he said, calling the process "strenuous." He also hurt his neck because the nails were lodged in the wood so well.
His dentist sanded down the chipped tooth, and Heslep said he was good as new before heading back to California.
Asked why he competes in record-breaking feats, Heslep said, basically, because he can.
"I've been pretty strong for awhile," he said. Using his hands and teeth, he twists steel bars into pretzel-like shapes and bends pennies, dimes and quarters. In a YouTube video called "Wake Up Your Feet," he picked up a 20-pound barbell weight with his left big toe.
"I thought, well, why not try something else with my strength?" he said.
In the challenge to keep two airplanes aground for a little over a minute in 2010, he said he beat the existing Guinness Record by 15 seconds. He didn't have it verified by Guinness, though, because of the cost and number of judges they require.
The current record holder used straps to help him earn his title, Heslep said, but "I wanted to not only beat it, but annihilate it."
That's not to say he succeeds at everything he tries.
"I'm not good at the mini trampolines," he said. While competing on "American Ninja Warrior" in 2012, he was supposed to do a jump and hang over water -- "and I went for a swim," he said.
He didn't make last year's show, but he said he'll try again this year.
His interest started in 1995 at a Strong Man competition in Leesburg, when he realized he was more than capable of completing the weight lifting requirements.
"It proved to me that you don't have to be big to be strong," he said.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org