Tonight they're going to party like it's 2012

Whether by choice or by birth, more than 200,000 Americans, known as "Leapers," have a life milestone that arrives only every four years, on Leap Day.

When Kyle Tirpak and her fiancé, Joshua Martin, began planning for the biggest day in their lives, they opened a calendar to help choose the perfect date.

Searching for a romantic time of year that also would suit their budget, Tirpak, a human resources administrator, quickly came across something that she knew would make her wedding memorable: She and Martin could wed on Feb. 29, a date that comes around only every four years.

This month, the soon-to-be Martins will join more than 200,000 Americans who celebrate a special day in their lives on Leap Day. In many cases, these so-called Leapers are tied to Feb. 29 by birth. Others, such as the Martins, come to it by choice. Whatever the connection, this is the year Leapers really celebrate, because they won’t get another chance until 2012.

Tirpak said she knew what the implications would be for a Feb. 29 anniversary, so she originally mentioned the date as a joke. As soon as she did, Martin fell for the prospect.

“He loved the suggestion and just couldn’t get over the idea,” Tirpak said. “So, I said, ‘If that’s what you want, fine.’”

And since she’s letting her fiancé keep the leap-year date, Tirpak seems to be getting a few perks of her own, including an “overpowering” Valentine’s Day theme.

“Everything’s pink, with hearts,” she said. “Not that he cares that much about it, but I kind of went very girly. So we just compromised.”

Citing her man’s poor memory, Tirpak’s said that a Feb. 29 anniversary is something she doesn’t have to worry about him forgetting.

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Cari Gelber, 7, who is actually turning 28, practices her swing on a leapfrog pinata to be used at the party she's planning for fellow leap year babies in New York. (Photo by Jessica Freiman)

Nonetheless, many of Tirpak’s friends think it’s bizarre for her to choose a wedding date with a real anniversary that comes only every four years-—especially, she said, because her fiancé has joked that they won’t have to celebrate it every year.

“Women ask me why I would do that, but men think it’s cool. And that makes Josh happy,” she said. “He is a very unique individual. He’s not into conformity.”

She added, “Getting married on a leap year day is very fitting if you would know him.”

No stranger to celebrating on Leap Day, Cari Gelber, an event planner in New York City, enjoys the looks she gets when she tells people she is only 6 years old.

Gelber is also a leaper. On Feb. 29, she will turn 7, though it’s actually her 28th year on earth.

“People tell me that at least I’ll always be young at heart,” Gelber said.

There is a one in 1,461 chance of being born on Feb. 29, according to the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies, a Web site celebrating people born on that day.

Those odds make leapers unique--and often the subject of ridicule, which was the case for Gelber.

“Whenever I would be acting immature, people would say I was just acting my age,” Gelber said, “but I always liked being different.”

As soon as she turned 21, the rite of passage that finally allowed her friends to enter bars, Gelber was often stopped at the door.

Convinced that Feb. 29 was a made-up date, bouncers often turned her away, sure that Gelber had invested in a sub-par fake ID.

“They would say, ‘Nice try,’ and I would have to convince them my birthday did exist,” she recalled. “There were some times during college when I wouldn’t get in.”

Gelber has always wanted to have a big birthday bash, and this year she’s throwing one for herself and inviting other leap year babies who are turning 6, 7, 8 and 9-–or 24, 28, 32 and 36 years old. It will be the first time in her life she will ever come face-to-face with another leaper.

“I want to get as many leap year babies into one room as I can,” Gelber said.

As an only child, Gelber escaped mockery about her delayed age from siblings, but Talia Skapinker of Toronto, who also turns 7 this month, was not as fortunate.

“My little brother would always make fun of me and tell me that he was older than I was,” Skapinker said.

Her last actual birthday, in 2004, was memorable: her friends hired a male stripper.

“It was a total surprise,” she said. “They just did it for fun. Since it was my real birthday they’d do something I wouldn’t forget.”

Skapinker, a second-grade classroom teacher at Sprucecourt Junior Public School, shares a classroom full of fellow 7-year-olds.

“All the kids think it’s hilarious that I’m also turning 7, so I know what it’s like to be 7. They tell me that I’m the same age as them.”