It comes around every four years — another leap year. While Leap Day may just be one more day for people to fit into the year, it means something more to a small portion of the population.
They’re called leaplings, and unlike everyone else, they only see their birthday on the calendar once every four years.
FGCU confirmed that there are four leaplings who were born in Feb. 29, 1992 and three from that same day in 1996 currently enrolled at the university.
Akeyla Johnson and Nikoletta Papas are 1996 leaplings. The 20-year-olds, technically 5-year-olds, only get to celebrate their real birthday every four years, with every year building more anticipation for that fourth year.
“I get excited every year,” said Johnson, a community health major, “but I get more excited when my birthday actually shows up on the calendar. I feel that I’m more excited turning 20 than I am turning 21.”
Papas, a member of the Epsilon Alpha chapter of Tri Delta Sorority and model in her off time says that the “luxury” of only celebrating your birthday every four years made her appreciate that day a little more.
“Growing up as a leap year baby actually wasn’t too different,” Papas said. “It just made me appreciate the act of celebrating a birthday on your actual birth date more than the average person does. I feel like most people don’t get the true appreciation for celebrating their birthday because they get used to it every year. Having it only once every four years makes it special.”
Johnson agrees and says that it’s something that non-leaplings just won’t understand.
“It’s kind of like one of those things that people who aren’t born on a leap year take for granted,” Johnson said, “like seeing your birthday on the calendar every single year. It’s just more exciting because it’s there.”
The Earth takes 365.2422 days to completely orbit the sun, adding an extra day every four years on the Gregorian calendar, created by Pope Gregorious XIII, to keep the four seasons on schedule. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, without leap days the calendar would be off by five hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds every year. After 100 years, the seasons would be off by nearly a month.
Johnson feels that the leap year is more important than it gets credit for and that she’s happy to be associated with an event like leap year, even if people don’t understand it.
“I just feel like it’s important,” Johnson said. “I get excited telling people what (leap year) means. I would tell people that I was born on a leap year, and they would say things like ‘Oh, really? What’s that?’ or I’d get ‘Oh, well that sucks.’ And, I’m just like, ‘It really doesn’t … it doesn’t affect me.’”
The chances of being born on Leap Day are 1 in 1,461, and there are an estimated 200,000 leapers in the United States and about five million worldwide according to BBC News.
“It’s very unique,” Johnson said. “I feel like a lot of the parts of my life, like just my name is very unique. I just feel like (my birthday) is another part that makes me different from everyone else.”
For many leaplings, there’s the yearly debate of which date to celebrate their big day during every year that doesn’t have that extra day: will it be Feb. 28 or March 1? For some, this means two birthdays. For others, it means they could choose based on convenience.
Johnson would choose which day she celebrated on depending on what classes she’d be taking that day; her high school had a block schedule.
Papas did it a little differently.
“When I was in preschool, the kids would make fun of me saying I didn’t have a real birthday, so I didn’t exist,” Papas said. “So, my parents decided to give me two days to celebrate it — on Feb. 28 and March 1. Who could say no to having two birthday cakes?”
Whatever day they chose, it only built more anticipation for that fourth year.
Papas said her birthday celebrations get a little bigger every year, with her last one taking a trip to New York City with friends for her 16th birthday. This year, she plans on spending it with family, friends and her boyfriend.
Johnson plans to spend time with her friends on her birthday and will wait to see her family when she goes home for Spring Break.
The leaplings will finally see Feb. 29 on the calendar and get to experience something that only comes once every four years: their real birthday.