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Monday, March 13, 2000

By Richard Lawrence, Bodies Best International, Special to the Star-Bulletin
Don Eads steps over 2,000-degree coals at a recent
exhibition in Orlando, Fla. Eads says he learned
from a kahuna who walked on lava.

Big Island pastor
on record-setting
fire-walking team

Don Eads says walking on
coals takes 'focus' and has
nothing to do with religion

By Rod Thompson


WAIMEA, Hawaii -- An international fire-walking team including Big Island Pastor Don Eads has set three world records in Orlando, Fla.

Back on the Big Island after the March 4 event, Eads said he learned the skill by walking on lava flows.

He warned that no one should firewalk without training.

"People have had their feet burned off," he said. "People can get killed. If you fall you're in big trouble."

Eads was part of a team headed by Gary Shawkey of Spring Hill, Fla., that intended only to put on an exhibition at the Florida State Fair. Then a video team from Guinness Book of Records decided to record the 160-foot walk.

Shawkey's team built the firewalk with wood, set it ablaze and, when it burned to coals, cooked a meal of ham and eggs and steak, Eads said.

Only one winner wanted

The Guinness people tried to measure the heat, but it was hotter than the maximum 2000 degrees Fahrenheit their instruments would measure, Shawkey said. As soon the temperature dropped to 1,995 degrees, Shawkey started the 160-foot walk barefoot.

Eads followed, but at 140 feet one of the Guinness staff pulled him off the fire line because they wanted only one winner. Shawkey went into the record book for the hottest fire, the longest walk and the combination of the two.

Eads did not want to detract from Shawkey but said he has done longer unofficial fire-walks. "I've done 270 feet before."

Eads is a Christian pastor who operates Kindling International Ministry. But he says fire-walking has nothing to do with religion. Nobody knows what does enable fire-walkers to do it except "focus," he said.

The night before the Orlando firewalk, the team practiced focusing techniques from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., Shawkey said.

Eads was introduced to fire-walking when an old Hawaiian kahuna walked barefoot on lava during a 1977 flow near Kalapana, he said. After demonstrating, the old man said, "Well, want to try it?"

"Want to try it, your butt!" was Eads' less-than-polite answer.

A state of mind

But a few days later, he changed his mind. He thought he would just jump on and off. The old man refused a halfhearted try.

"You have to put yourself in a state of mind that you know you're going to do it," the old man taught him.

In those early days, Eads looked straight ahead, never at the lava. Now he can look at the burning coals, even assuming an out-of-body viewpoint looking down on himself.

He remembers the lava being soft enough for his feet to sink in slightly, he said. Different types of wood have different feels, he said. Some have more resin and the fire sticks to his feet, but he has never been burned.

After the Orlando event, a friend asked to see his feet. He was a little embarrassed.

"I'm going to have to wash them. They're dirty," he said.

Eads laughs, but he is serious about safety.

Seminar on May 6

Officials with lava experience are also serious.

"It would be impossible to walk on molten lava. You would sink in," said Don Swanson, head of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Norrie Judd, a Hawaii Volcanoes National Park employee, said the boots her ranger husband Jeff was wearing when he stepped in a lava crack are now in the Smithsonian Institution.

A park visitor who illegally walked on lava about a month ago and got his boots stuck in it had to be flown to a hospital, she said.

Anyone wanting to see fire-walking can attend a May 6 motivational seminar on the Big Island by Eads and Shawkey. For information, call (808) 938-9050.

E-mail to City Desk

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