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Feature Story

Des Moines’ Tallest People

10/5/2016

Vincent Lucas is a 6-foot-10-inch grade school teacher. He was born in Lander, Wyoming, and attended Eastern Oregon University on a basketball scholarship where he earned a master’s degree. He teaches English language learning for kindergarten at Perkins Elementary School in Des Moines.

If only he had a nickel for every time someone asked him, “How tall are you?” or “Do you play basketball?”

“Every day. Absolutely. It’s a daily occurrence,” said Lucas about being noticed while he’s out and about, running errands or getting groceries.

Every time?

“Yes,” he laughs. “For sure, the checker or someone, yeah. My philosophy is this: I used to think it was bad coming up in school — I grew up in a small town and everyone would ask me — so when I left for the bigger city, I was like, ‘You know what, it’s going to get better, because in a small town everyone knows each other and is social. In the city, people are more apt to mind their own business and not really notice.”

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But it didn’t change when he moved to the city. He postulates that people might be more social in smaller towns, but there also are less people, and most of them have already satisfied their curiosity. In the city, crowds of people are everywhere.

“In the city, a lot of people will just be invisible and live their lives, but in all those people, there is at least one that’s going to say something,” he says.

CV - October 2016 - Tall- - Vince Lucas in his classroom at Perkins Elementary School. Monday, September 12, 2016.

Vincent Lucas is a 6-foot-10 inch grade school teacher. He was born in Lander, Wyoming, and attended Eastern Oregon University on a basketball scholarship where he earned a master’s degree. He teaches English language learning for kindergarten at Perkins Elementary School in Des Moines.

He notes that he gets an increased reaction in places that accentuate his height. He said he stands out amongst kids or when sitting in an airplane. He said concerts are rough for him because people don’t appreciate having their view blocked. Movies used to be that way, too, but Vince praises the new Cinemark Movie Theater in Altoona.

“The theater is the best,” he said. “I’m almost disappointed because I can go nowhere else, now. It’s phenomenal. The seats kick out like a lazy-boy, and I can kick my legs out all the way and people can still walk by.”

Vince admits that being tall probably helps with some things, and people definitely tend to remember him easily. He is thankful to have earned a basketball scholarship, but he wants you to know that being tall is not all it’s cracked up to be.

“I feel I have more sacrifices than I do victories,” he said. “I sleep diagonally on a king-sized bed,” he laughs. “My dream is to have a California King.”

He says airplanes are also problematic for tall people, and that is probably the reason he doesn’t travel very often. But he is thankful when people watch out for him, and sometimes strangers who are sitting in the emergency aisles will see his misery and exchange with him. Airline employees attempt to help him, too.

Another unexpected disadvantage is the height of many showers. Vincent says he once lived in a house with an upstairs bathroom with ceilings that slanted downward, forcing the showerhead even lower than one would expect.

“It only had about a 6-foot ceiling,” he said. “Every morning I was in there getting my squats in. It was miserable.”

Fortunately, Vince’s dad is in construction.

“Any place I move into now, we cut out the sheetrock and the piping and move the showerhead way up to the ceiling,” he says.

 

Clint Driftmier is a husband, teacher and Nebraska Cornhusker enthusiast. Like Vincent Lucas, he is also really tall.

“6 foot 10 inches,” he said. “Flat footed.”

Driftmier says things most people take for granted, like walking through a doorway, can be difficult at his height.

“A normal doorway is 6-foot-8 inches, so I have to duck through those,” he said.

Driftmier doesn’t generally hit the top of the door frame unless he catches it on the up-step, but it’s happened often enough that he’s learned to duck.

CV - October 2016 - Tall- - Drake Senior Jacob Enevold Jensen towers over fellow student Sophomore Carolyn Sherrick. Monday, September 12, 2016.

Jacob Enevold is a 7-foot, 246-pound center on the Drake basketball team. The senior originally hails from Lunderskov, Denmark. Here he is standing next to 5-foot-6-inch sophomore, Carolyn Sherrick.

“It hurts really bad,” he said.

When Driftmier and his wife custom-built their home, they installed 8-foot doorways.

“If I’m going to live there for 20 years, I might as well be comfortable,” he said.

He made other “up” grades, too. Showers have often been a problem for him, so he had an extra showerhead installed above the one his wife uses at the standard height.

“And I guarantee we have the cleanest top of a refrigerator ever,” he laughed.

Fortunately, Driftmier fits in the family minivan, but finding the right-sized car can be a challenge. He’s also had a truck and a Ford Explorer, but many cars are out of the question. While he was overseas playing basketball professionally, he rode in a Smart Car, but it was a tight fit — his wingspan was longer than the car.

“Bumper to bumper,” he said. “I could touch both. It was interesting. But I folded up and got in there. I don’t really see myself as being different — until I see myself standing in a photo.”

Random strangers on the street will sometimes discreetly stand next to him to try and snap a photo. He’s learned to enjoy the attention, but he has one request.

“Just ask,” Driftmier laughed. “And I’ll gladly take a photo with you.”

It’s rare for him to see someone taller than he is, and he doesn’t remember looking up to someone since his days on the basketball court.

“I am who I am,” he said. “I own it, and I’m proud of it. This is how I was made. This is how I’m supposed to be, so this is it. I wouldn’t change it. I think it’s kind of neat. It’s rare for someone to be taller than me.”

All in all, Driftmier said the good things about being tall outweigh the bad. His message for people on behalf of tall people everywhere is simple.

“Don’t treat tall people differently,” he laughed. “Tall people are people, too.”

 

Membership has its privileges

Being 7-feet tall doesn’t guarantee you will excel at basketball, but being closer to the rim does inevitably help.

According to a 2011 Sports Illustrated article, author Pablo S. Torre used the information from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to calculate that “no more than 70 American men are between the ages of 20 and 40 and at least 7 feet tall.” He then reasoned that while the probability of an American between 6 feet 6 inches and 6 feet 8 inches being an NBA player today stands at .07 percent, it is 17 percent for someone 7 feet or taller.

Drake basketballer Jacob Enevold is a 7-foot, 246-pound center on the Drake men’s basketball team. The senior originally hails from Lunderskov, Denmark, and being tall is a big reason he’s now living in Des Moines. He’ll be here for at least one more season, then his height might take him elsewhere — maybe even to the professional ranks.

“Some days I’ll be approached four or five times when I’m out and about,” he said of the public’s interest upon seeing him. People often approach him to ask how tall he is, or ask, “What’s the weather like up there?” Others will talk to him about someone they know who is tall, too.

“But if they’re shorter than me, I don’t want to know about it,” he joked.♦

 

Commonly asked questions:

“What’s the weather like up there?”

“You play basketball?”

“Are those canoes or shoes?”

“How tall are you?”

 

DXL Destination XL

6503 Mills Civic Parkway, 515-222-1718

Ashley Connett is the store manager at Destination XL or DXL.

“We are a men’s big and tall clothing store,” said Connett, who is only 5 feet 4 inches herself but understands the clothing challenges of tall people because she sees it on a daily basis. She says many tall people come in expecting to “force” something to work when it doesn’t really fit.big-and-tall-dxl-sales-person-in-6x-11

The best part of working with tall customers is easy to identify.

“They can reach the top shelves when I would have to go get a ladder,” she jokes.

The process can sometimes include finding alternatives to buying clothing off the rack, or sometimes DXL will outsource the customer’s needs to a tailor or enable the online buying process. And, of course, the store also carries a lot of inventory.

“For the most part, they find that things aren’t long enough,” she says, adding that when a piece of clothing is long enough, if the person isn’t very heavy, then usually the size is too wide. “Finding things in the correct length is the hardest part.”

DXL carries sizes up to 6X and can offer up to 8X online.

She says the biggest shoe they carry is typically a 15, and online it goes up to 17. And these bigger sizes cost about the same as if they were smaller.

“I’ve never had a request for anything bigger than an 18,” she said.

If a larger size is needed, the person will generally have to find a smaller specialty shop to custom-make the item.

“What makes people happy is when it fits,” she said. “I’ve had guys on the verge of tears because they put something on and it fits. It’s the first time in their adult lives that they can put something on and it’s the right size. And they don’t have to try on 15 of them. It’s cool to be a part of that. I like tall people.”

 

They might be giants?

It’s not just the name of a ’90s rock band; it’s an actual reference to some local citizens walking around Des Moines. Dictionary.com defines a giant as “…a being with human form but superhuman size, strength, etc.”

TALLEST IOWAN: It’s believed by many that the tallest Iowan ever was Bernard A. Coyne (July 27, 1897 – May 20, 1921). Coyne was born in Anthon, and he stood at least 8 feet tall — and possibly more. He’s one of the few people in history known to be this tall. Coyne died in 1921, and some sources allege he stood as high as 8 feet 4 inches. He was listed at an even 8 feet tall on his draft registration card for World War I, which was dated Aug. 29, 1918. The Guinness Book of World Records says the Iowan was refused induction into the Army (1918) while standing 7 feet 9 inches. Coyne reportedly wore size 25 shoes. He is buried in Anthon, Iowa. He is believed to be the tallest eunuchoidal infantile giant of all time — this syndrome is also known as Daddy Long-Legs Syndrome. (Source: www.thetallestman.com)

TALLEST PERSON EVER:  According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Robert Pershing Wadlow is the tallest man in history with irrefutable medical evidence. Wadlow was born in 1918, and at the time of his death in 1940, he was 8 feet 11 inches tall, wore a size 37 shoe and his hands were measured at more than a foot long — 12.75 inches from the wrist to the tip of the middle finger. Wadlow’s coffin reportedly measured 10 feet 9 inches long.

TALLEST POLK COUNTY PRISONER: According to the Polk County Sheriff’s records from Jan. 1, 2006, through June 12, 2016, the tallest prisoner was 7 feet 3 inches.

TALLEST BUILDING: The tallest building in Iowa is located at 801 Grand Ave. The structure stands 630 feet tall.

TALLEST TREE: The tallest tree in Des Moines is an Eastern White Pine, measuring 139.3 feet. The tree is located at 502 E. Ninth St.

TALLEST PRESIDENT: Abraham Lincoln stood 6 feet 4 inches tall, and, believe it or not, that’s the tallest president in history. The average height of United States presidents is 5 feet 10.7 inches, and since 1901, it’s a little bit higher at and 5 feet 11.6 inches. Speaking of tall politicians, researchers at Texas Tech University suggest that height affects presidential voters’ preference, and possibly for instinctive reasons, which go back to caveman days. The study, which was published in Social Science Quarterly by political science professor Gregg Murray and graduate student David Schmitz says that “A near-universal fear of snakes and a preference for unhealthy fatty foods likely evolved from a time when snakes were a common threat and caloric intake was uncertain. We believe similar traits exist in politics.” The authors point to what’s called the “big man” tribal leadership of many ancient societies, as well as the impact of physical strength on status in the animal kingdom. The report notes that the taller candidate has won 58 percent of U.S. presidential elections between 1789 and 2008. Of course, that means the shorter candidate won 42 percent of the time, so it isn’t a hard and fast rule. And for the record, Donald Trump is reportedly 6 feet 2 inches tall, and Hillary Clinton is listed at various heights between 5 feet 4 inches and 5 feet 7 inches.

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