Looking back, Ashrita Furman realizes he shouldn’t have eaten four slices of pizza the night before he attempted to better his own world record for most consecutive forward somersaults. He barfed — a lot — while he rolled. Oops.
That experience was a heck of a lot more painful than the time Furman raced a yak (well, actually, two yaks, because one got tired and shamelessly dropped out) while trying to set the mile-long speed record for jumping in a potato sack.
When Getti Kehayova attempted the record for the largest hula hoop spun, the hoop came up just after she got it off the ground and smacked her in the face, and everyone there to watch in-person went: “Oh!” She laughed it off and tried again.
As Furman and Kehayova know, setting a Guinness World Record isn’t without its risks. But that hasn’t stopped people from pursuing some wild and physically demanding dreams over the years. They’re not stopping either. In fact, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Guinness book’s head office reports a larger than usual number of solo-effort record attempts are being submitted. Canadians have been taking a run at things like most sticky notes stuck on the body in 30 seconds and most pen spins around the thumb in one minute. Really, what better time to try to get your name in that famed book?
For a little inspiration, seven holders of wild and athletic Guinness records fill us in on important things like: What’s the key to standing on an exercise ball while slicing as many kiwis as you can with a Samurai sword? How in the world can a person hold the plank position for more than eight hours? And what are the added challenges when you’re pulling a transport truck in three-and-a-half-inch high heels?
KEVIN FAST, 57, Cobourg, Ontario
Records 31, including heaviest vehicle pulled more than 100 feet (218,389 pounds), most caber tosses in an hour (122) and heaviest aircraft pulled (416,299 pounds)
Day Job Lutheran pastor
Fast’s record-setting began in his 30s, inspired by Strongman competitions he saw on TV and, in particular, one featuring guys pulling fire trucks.
I called the fire department and asked, “Can I borrow a fire truck?” The great thing about Cobourg is — and it probably might not happen in any other place — they said, “Sure, come right on over.” [Laughs.] The main thing was curiosity: I wanted to see if I could do it. I started by pulling a wee 16-tonne fire truck. And then somebody beat that record, so I wished them well and I thought, “I can’t live with it,” and I got it back. Then somebody in Australia beat my record, and I thought, “Well, that’s good for them,” and I thought about it for a minute and said, “I’ve got to get it back.” I got that back within a week. So that’s how my records sort of blossomed. I’m mainly known for pulling things.
Among the other items Fast has pulled: Planes, houses, several vehicles at a time and a very heavy Santa sleigh (he has a big white beard, just like jolly old St. Nick). He’s always strong, a by-product of competing in Highland Games, but training for a record attempt requires different preparation.
When I’m training for a specific record, for example, pulling a truck, I have a pick-up truck and that’s exactly what I do; while people are out jogging on the street, there I am tied to a truck, jogging along, too. I’ve got a fairly good grade out in front of my house that I use for endurance pulling, and when my neighbours find out I’m going to do a practice, they’ll go out by the road and sit in their lawn chairs to watch the show. When I was doing heavier pulls, I went to another street where the grade was even greater, and depending on the grade I’d work on endurance or on pure strength. It really became a science. My total training for a world record, to reach my peak of performance, was always six weeks. I figured if I went a seventh week, I would be risking serious injury.
Among all his records, pulling a plane in September of 2009 stands out as Fast’s highlight. The CC-177 Globemaster III weighed 416,288 pounds and the required pull distance for the record was five metres. Fast pulled it 8.8 metres — kind of by accident.
As it turns out, borrowing a plane’s not easy. I went to the Trenton Air Force Base — it took about a year and I was able to finally borrow a plane. I got in front of this huge plane, it was the size of a football field on wheels. I pulled for about 45 seconds, max effort. What I compare it to is in a gym when you’ve got maximum weight on your shoulders and you do some squats and you can barely get out 10. I was doing this for 45 seconds. I couldn’t feel my legs, my body — everything was gone on me. And then after 45 seconds it started to move! I had got in such a state. So I went the five metres and the Guinness adjudicator yelled out: “Kevin, it’s a record!” And I kept pulling. My son was beside me, and he yelled right in my ear, “Dad, you can finish, it’s over — you did it!” Finally he slapped me on the back with his hand and I realized, “Okay, I can stop pulling.” But all my senses were gone. I couldn’t hear.
Fast would like to come up with a plan for his next record pull, but it’s proving to be a challenge.
I’ve been contacted by different countries to pull something bigger, but it’s hard to find something bigger. The big one that I wanted to do and I wish we could’ve made happen was the space shuttle. Wouldn’t that be cool? If you have any connections, I’d appreciate it [laughs]. People always ask me: “When are you going to retire? You’re an old man. You shouldn’t be doing this. You’ve done enough.” But my philosophy is simple and it’s this: God has given me this gift of strength and I’m going to use it as long as I have it. And so, if somebody comes up with a good idea and we can make it happen, I will be there. I like to do records every year, and last year I didn’t do one. Ugh. I hope we get something going this year. The goal will be the space shuttle at age 60 [laughs].
ASHRITA FURMAN, 65, New York City
Records More than 800, including longest duration jumping on a pogo stick underwater (3 hours, 4 minutes), most throws and catches of a fire sword in one minute (66) and fastest time to push an orange one mile using one’s nose (22 minutes, 41 seconds.)
Day Job Health food store owner
Furman has twice been recognized by Guinness for holding the most records in the world, a distinction they no longer recognize. Among the hundreds he holds, one that really stands out is the time he beat two yaks in a mile-long race.
It was an attempt at the record for the fastest mile hopping in a potato sack, and I had been training for it. I was on a plane to Mongolia [for vacation] — there are yaks in Mongolia, so I decided I was going to try to race a yak while I was in a sack. [Author’s note: !!!] I went to a yak farm, and he liked the idea. He had a number of yaks there and I chose the oldest looking yak, of course. One of his horns was actually upside down. I thought, “Okay, maybe I have a chance.” [Laughs.] It was all set up, the locals are gathered, and then I see that they switched yaks on me! They got this really athletic-looking yak. The only advantage I had was there was a rider on the yak, so he had that sort of disadvantage [of carrying extra weight]. We started racing and one of the rules is that if your foot is emerging from the bag you have to stop and switch into a new bag. We started racing and I was actually doing pretty well against the yak, but every time I had to switch bags he would go ahead and then I would catch up. At some point the yak and rider just disappeared. I remember thinking, “What happened?” That yak got tired. The rider got another yak and it was the original yak that I had chosen! We raced to the end of the mile and I beat him by a nose. I did break the record for the fastest mile [16 minutes, 41 seconds].
Furman’s most painful record, and the one he’s most proud of, was for most continuous forward rolls — or somersaults.
I saw the record for forward rolls in the book, and I did a few rolls and I immediately got dizzy. I said, “Wow, that’s amazing.” The record was 8.3 miles. I went out after midnight to the local track and I would roll around. I would count and I could do maybe 100. And to me, that became a challenge. I remember going once around the track, it was 200 metres, and I was thrilled. At that time, I didn’t think of using padding — there was glass on the track, there was dirt; I was bruised and dirty. I eventually managed to do 10 miles in Central Park. And it was rough. I remember throwing up many times.
Furman’s record stood for several years — until he decided to break it himself in 1986. He set out to somersault along the path of Paul Revere’s famed ride in Boston, a distance of 12.25 miles. He relied on meditation to help him through. And he made a major error the night before the big roll…
There was a thing called carbo loading back in those days, where the night before a long-distance event, you’d have a big carbohydrate meal. I had four slices of pizza with everything on it. Of course, it did not get digested, so I started throwing up while I was rolling. It has to be continuous rolling but you’re allowed to stop to throw up. It was messy [laughs]. It was a hilly course and I’d only trained on a track. The hills threw me off. After four or five miles, I’m thinking, “I’m never going to finish.” Sometimes with these really tough records, you’re battling not only your physical exhaustion but also your mind. What’s even more important is to quell those doubts and to quiet your mind, which is what meditation is, really. It’s quieting your mind. I’m trying to push back these doubts.
After a lot of throwing up and pushing and trying to meditate as I’m rolling, they told me the 10-mile mark was coming up. I decided, I’m just going to stop — break the record by a few rolls and not finish Paul Revere’s ride. This furniture store was along the route. They figured out that the 10-mile mark was where their store was, so they put out one of these La-Z-Boy chairs. I see this chair in the distance and it’s like an oasis in the desert and I’m thinking: “That’s it, I’m going to roll up to that chair and I’m done!”
Just before I hit that chair, my friends are with me, they said “Ashrita, don’t get mad but we called your meditation teacher and told him you might stop at 10 miles and he said, ‘Tell Ashrita he can finish.’” It was amazing because I was completely receptive to it. My abs were cramping on each roll, I was exhausted, and these words just popped out of my mouth: “I am not the body, I am the soul.” It really helped me — it got me away from feeling the pain and exhaustion. It was great. I finished the 12-and-a-quarter miles [in a time of 10 hours, 30 minutes]. It was exhausting but it was fun and it was very fulfilling. Pushing past those challenges, I felt uplifted for two or three weeks afterwards. It was one of the highlights of my life, really.
Furman’s favourite record-breaking instrument is the pogo stick, and he’s currently training for most jumps on a pogo stick without using your hands.
I love the pogo stick. I’ve done a record on every continent with a pogo stick. For Antarctica, I flew in to break the fastest mile pogo stick record. The springs froze halfway through, but fortunately you’re allowed to switch pogo sticks.
GETTI KEHAYOVA, 41, Las Vegas
Record Largest hula-hoop spun
Day Job Cirque du Soleil rigger, responsible for ensuring the safety of high-flying athletes; hula hoop fitness instructor
Kehayova grew up travelling the world in a family of acrobats. Guinness World Records also run in the family: her father helped set a record featuring a pyramid of seven men, and her sister set one for the most hula hoops spun at one time (97). It wasn’t until Kehayova retired from the circus that she found a record she wanted to try to set herself.
A co-worker at Cirque du Soleil told me they saw a video on Facebook of a Japanese man spinning the world’s biggest hula hoop. She said, “When I saw that video I thought to myself, ‘I’ll bet anything that Getti can beat that record.’” I giggled about it and I thought: “What? I didn’t even know a record like that existed.” A lightbulb went off. In between shows that day I started Googling it on my phone and, sure enough, I find a Japanese man who spins a 16.5-foot diameter hula hoop. It blew me away because it’s so big, it’s so heavy. I didn’t know that was a record or even possible. I thought: How cool would it be now that I’ve retired from the circus, never did I think I would do a Guinness World Record, and I beat this person’s record? I had my hula hoop built, which was 17 feet and a quarter inch diameter, and I began to train every day.
But the spinning didn’t come as easily as Kehavoya expected, even with her many years of experience with a hula hoop.
At first, I couldn’t even get the hula hoop moving, because it’s so big and heavy. I almost gave up, but I put so much thought into fabricating it and perfecting it, I just thought I had to keep practicing and training to get stronger. The hula hoop is about 60 pounds. But it’s not about that, it’s so top heavy — that’s what made it very hard for me is just to get it spinning. You literally put it up against your back like you would any hula hoop and you stand there. Now you’re looking at this 17-foot circle, it’s as big as my living room, and now you’ve got to start turning it. But it’s not like a regular hula hoop where you can lift it off the ground and spin it. This hula hoop is so massive that you actually have to drag it for two or three turns so the other end of it is on the floor dragging.
The hard part is that as it’s dragging and you’re turning, you’ve got to start turning faster and faster and faster until it starts lifting off the ground, and now you’re leaning backwards, so now your whole body is diagonal, because you’re leaning on the hula hoop and you’re kind of running in circles to get it going. When you get the right speed, that’s when you let it go and you give it that spin. All the revolutions have to be off the ground, and it has to be at least three revolutions or more [for the record].
Kehayova practiced for more than six months in her front yard. When she submitted her attempt to the Guinness World Records head office, she learned she’d be making history if she achieved the record, becoming the first woman to hold it. That added to the nerves on the big day — which did not get out to the start she’d hoped for.
I wanted to do it just once and get it over with and impress everyone. But instead, I had so much power and adrenaline that I began to spin it almost too fast. When I finally let it go and whipped it, the hula hoop had so much speed that once I let go, it began to raise up on my chest. I felt it coming and it’s not like I could slow it down with one movement — it’s got speed now, and it actually rose up and whacked me across the face. I heard everyone watching go, “Oh!” I shook it off, laughed about it and said, “It’s okay, guys. I had too much power. I’ll do it one more time.” I did it successfully and it was such a relief. I ended up doing four-and-a-half revolutions. I know it sounds little, because if you’re thinking of a regular hula hoop — one, two, three, four, and it’s done. With this big hula hoop by the time one revolution happened it takes two or three seconds.
Kehayova celebrated that night with friends and family. The next day, she was covered in bruises.
It was very, very painful. I had a black eye. I was bruised, because when you have your arms straight in the air, it’s coming across your rib cage and your upper chest. I do wear a protective vest but, either way, it’s kind of like getting constantly punched in the ribs and all around. I was very bruised, muscles were sore, I could barely walk, I had a bad headache. It was like a really bad hangover… But it was very worth it [laughs].
DAVID RUSH, 35, Boise, Idaho
Records More than 100, including most leaves raked in one minute (34.677 pounds), longest duration balancing a bicycle on the chin (6 minutes, 1.70 seconds) and most blueberries stuffed in the mouth (124)
Day Job Senior product manager at a software development company
Rush is a juggling enthusiast and five years ago, he started setting world records, many of them juggling-related. In 2018 alone, he set 51 records. One that’s still being processed by Guinness is the fastest mile run while juggling blindfolded.
I’m pretty excited every time I break a record — there’s no Guinness World Record that’s easy to set at this point. When I broke the fastest mile running while juggling blindfolded, that’s really years of effort and energy put into developing the skillset necessary to break this record. I think there’s maybe five other people in the world that may be even able to attempt it. I was absolutely thrilled. I yelled so loud my voice went out.
You’re allowed to have audio cues while you’re running, so I had runners on either side of me running with me, giving me cues. They broke the road up into five sections, so if I was in the middle of the road they’d say, “three,” if I was drifting to the right they’d say “four” or “five” so I could get back in the middle. If you drop a ball you’re allowed to pick it up, go back to where you dropped it and re-start. I think I dropped a ball about 10 times and still ran the mile in seven minutes and 54 seconds. [Editor’s note: That’s even faster than his world record for running a mile while carrying an egg on a spoon in his mouth, which took a little more than eight minutes.]
Training to run a mile blindfolded while juggling does require some help, of course, but Rush did much of his preparation solo.
There’s a couple ways to train. One is just running while juggling with my eyes open. That’s the first place to start and I’ve literally done that for thousands and thousands of miles. And then I’ll go out to the track and I’ll close my eyes for a few steps — five, six, seven steps. If I’m on a wide open road, I blink my eyes open maybe every 30 steps. And then having a guide. My neighbour across the street, we’re quarantine buddies for COVID-19 and we’ve been breaking Guinness World Record titles together. He’s the one who ran next to me. Since the quarantine started we’ve broken five or six more — we’ve been doing them in our living rooms. I don’t have my commute to work and we can’t go out to the movies anymore, so we’ve been breaking records.
Rush and Jonathan Hannon hold 10 two-man records together, with more still being processed by Guinness.
A cool one was we did most kiwis sliced in a minute with a Samurai sword while standing on a swiss [exercise] ball. I was standing on that holding a Samurai sword and then Jonathan is throwing kiwis at me at just the right pace and area so that I could slice them in half. [They sliced 65].
I think I’ve submitted seven [new records] since this pandemic started, six of them with Jonathan. One was the most wet sponges thrown into the face in 30 seconds. I took the hit and I took them in the face. Jonathan is an ambidextrous thrower, which is really important, so he can throw left hand, right hand, left hand, right hand, really accurately. He’s doing the throwing and I catch them in my face.
Hannon will never forget the first time he saw his neighbour.
One day I came home, I was looking out the window in front of our house and saw the gentleman across the street juggling axes and a bunch of other stuff. About a week later, I saw the same guy on a unicycle juggling four or five balls at a time. I told my wife, “There’s a clown across the street, he’s missing his makeup. I should introduce myself to him.” It went from first introduction to holding a stopwatch, to yelling “three, four, five” on the road as a blindfolded man was running next to me, to throwing sponges in his face.
BRITTANY WALSH, 33, Portland, Oregon
Record Farthest arrow shot at a target using feet (40 feet, 4.64 inches)
Day Job Acrobatic performer and teacher
To go after her record of launching an arrow — accurately, at a small target — with her feet, Walsh had to employ a lot of athletic skill. Her focus as an acrobat is contortion and hand balancing, but she had to do a lot of training to add to her skillset.
I really had to work on my handstands to make sure I had strong and solid balance. I also had to build the flexibility to be able to bring my feet in front of my face while in a handstand. From there, I had to build my toe and foot strength to actually be able to hold the bow in my feet while also gripping the string with my toes on the other foot and drawing the bow to shoot the arrow. And the aim, after that. All those parts definitely took a long time to work on.
Yes, Walsh actually worked out her toes.
I did a lot of towel scrunches — you lie a towel flat on the floor and scrunch it with your toes. Also just picking up different weighted objects with my toes. The bow and arrow together weigh around five pounds, so I had to work up the strength in my feet and toes to hold something of that weight. I remember doing my chores and picking up around the house with my toes. Multitasking: cleaning up and exercising at the same time.
The training spanned more hours than Walsh can count, especially to nail the accuracy portion.
It took me at least a year to learn the trick. And then a couple years to start to hone in on my aim, get more accurate. From there, starting to build distance. I played with a lot of different things. I’ve used suction cup arrows, regular arrows, fire arrows, and that has caused me to alter the amount I draw back the arrow, how I aim. It’s been a continuous process. From the time I decided to do the record to actually beating the record, I think I was seriously training for distance and accuracy for probably a year. Part of the pre-existing record was you had to hit within a 10-centimetre bullseye. It’s pretty crazy.
Walsh started at a closer distance to break the record, and hit that one after a few tries. Then she moved back to 12.31 metres.
When we scooted back to a further distance it did take me several attempts, maybe close to 10. I was hitting the target but you had to hit within the small bullseye to have it be valid.
It was absolutely amazing [to hit the bullseye]. I don’t often feel proud of myself, just because I am always trying to push for bigger and better things, but I did feel very proud, very accomplished. Having a Guinness World Record has been almost a lifelong dream for me, and for the career I’ve had in the circus, it felt like a huge accomplishment and incredible feat to have achieved.
LIA GRIMANIS, 48, Toronto
Record Heaviest vehicle pulled in high heels (14,520 pounds)
Day Job Founder and CEO of Up With Women, a charity that assists homeless women
Grimanis discovered her strength late in life, when a back injury forced her to hit the gym. She credits being autistic for leading her to try some seemingly impossible challenges while working out.
On YouTube I saw this guy leg-pressing a New York taxi cab and I thought, “Oh, I wonder if I can do that?” That’s where the chip is missing, right? You don’t think, “This is a ridiculous idea.” You know the leg press machines where you put the plates on and you’re on the floor pushing up? I thought, “Okay, why don’t I see if I’m actually strong.” The muscleheads with the thick necks [at her gym] are all going, “What’s she doing? She’s crazy!” I had 800 pounds on there and then I went and laid down and I pushed it. I was like, “Oh, I guess I’m really strong.”
Grimanis tried to look up strong women competitions on Google, but only Strongman events showed up.
There’s no such thing as strong women competitions, there’s only Strongman competitions. Lots of big guys, they pull trucks. I went and got a strong man harness, you put it on your chest, and I rented a U-Haul and I started yanking it around a parking lot. That’s how I got started.
Grimanis’ first record was heaviest vehicle pulled 100 feet by a woman. The idea to pull a vehicle in heels — three-and-a-half-inch high-heeled boots, to be precise — came from the desire to build awareness for the charity she built and its cause.
I wanted to really have people think about women. I knew that pulling a truck in high heels is absolutely ridiculous. People are like, “What is she thinking? What kind of a feminist point is she trying to make?” Because it is kind of laughable, right? But that’s the point! Make people laugh. Make people scratch their heads, because it makes them look. So I thought, “Okay, I’m going to pull a truck in high heels. I’m happy to be a circus act if I have to be.” I managed to get one of the athletic tracks to let me use their track and we did the record. In the pouring rain. I had to struggle and struggle and struggle before I finally got those wheels to move.
The heels added an element of danger, too.
Your Achilles is one of the most vulnerable places on your body — you have to be very careful. Flexibility is even more important than the strength work. Also, you’ve got these tiny muscles in your feet that are taking on all of that pressure. That hurt a lot. Here you are, you’re pushing yourself well beyond your means, and you’re trying and trying to pull this truck.
Once she got it moving and set the record, the feeling of accomplishment lasted a long time for Grimanis, though it didn’t kick in until she’d recovered physically.
You feel like you’ve got a flu, you can’t move, everything tightens up. You have to stretch. You have to hydrate like crazy. You have to eat. I didn’t even want to get out of bed for two days. Two days after, when you’ve overcome the adrenaline crash, then you feel the inspiration and excitement. The excitement, it’s unbelievable.
That’s ultimately the good that comes with Guinness World Records: It makes people dream. It makes people wonder if they can be greater, you know? And that’s pretty wonderful … I work with recently homeless women who have fled violence, and I ended up finding a world-record skill that sends a beautiful message to survivors that we’re stronger than we think we are.
GEORGE HOOD, 62, Naperville, Illinois
Record Longest time in an abdominal plank position (8 hours, 15 minutes, 15 seconds)
Day Job Retired marine officer
Hood set his record earlier this year. Age, folks, is just a number.
Being 62, I’m in the best shape of my life and I can tell my peers, as much as they don’t want to hear it sometimes, that age is no longer an excuse to be inactive. For a lot of my peers, it’s inspiring. And I get countless messages from around the world from folks younger than I am who are just as inspired.
Hood has owned the record for longest-held plank three separate times. The very first time he tried the plank, just for fun at a local gym in 2011, he lasted five minutes. Impressive. And ever since, he’s been training and adding hours and minutes. He trained seven hours a day in the lead-up to his latest record-setting effort. A couple keys: He doesn’t look at a clock, and he blasts music to distract himself from the pain.
I lose all concept of time. You disassociate yourself from the reality of the clock. I have a support crew that is a big part of my success. We call it time call: “Have I passed 1:30?” It’s a “yes” or “no” question. A “no” can be devastating. I remember this last event we got into hour six and it seemed to take forever to get into hour seven. I had two time calls where I wasn’t where I thought I was. It brings tears to their eyes, they hate telling me no. Sometimes I get angry. First thing we do: turn up the music. Boy, when I don’t make my time and I’m stuck, that’s usually when I’m pretty hurting, that’s when I’m under duress. Quiet words in my ear sometimes help. Everybody comes in close. We start harnessing that energy.
If you’ve ever tried to hold the plank for a heroic amount of time (like a minute!), you’ve probably started to shake just before you drop. Hood does, too. And while the pain is incredible, he relies on breathing and past experience to help get him through it.
Usually your strongest leg will start to spasm. That leg starts to go and then it’ll start to drop. It’s rather excruciating — you can only take so much Aleve beforehand. The key to minimizing that pain is learning to breathe and relax. You learn to minimize pain and discomfort, you really do. To lay people, it’s the first excuse to want to stop. But I’ve been to Afghanistan and I’ve seen young marines in the fight and I can assure you that the pain and discomfort I feel pales in comparison to what they go through when all of a sudden they’re missing an arm after a bomb blast, yet they still have the wherewithal to continue to fight. I bring those images back in my head a lot when I think about how bad I think it is. The reality is, I’ll be fine. It’s just getting through that wall. The goal this time was just to surpass the current Guinness World Record so that I could get the new record and end my journey with the plank. That’s what we did.
But after he set his final plank record, Hood wasn’t done…
Once I stopped that plank, I popped up and did 75 push ups. That expended everything — there was nothing left. I had to knock them out, because I was cramping up in my legs. It’s like race cars do, they burn out that last bit of fuel.
Hood is now down to just two hours of planking a day. He has his eye on another record: Most push-ups in an hour.
The kid that has it now, his current mark is 2,806. I’m training now, knocking out a little over 1,000 a day, in about eight sets. I’m getting slowly better. I don’t do much else [other than train]. I’m retired. I’ve got a lot of experiences under my belt and if I’m going to live to be 100, which is the goal, I need to keep this up and minimize all the other stresses in my life that would risk cutting that goal short.
We’ll end on some poignant advice from the King of the Plank:
People just need to wake up every day and say: “I want to dig today!” But some of them just don’t want to dig. They give up. So, keep digging!
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