No record too silly for Guinness folks

Brooklyn man overcame nausea and somersaulted way to yet another world-shattering feat

Winnipeg Sun/July 16, 2007
By Sarah Green

The rules allowed for pauses to vomit.

Ashrita Furman set out to break his 10th world record in 1986 by continuously somersaulting his way down the historic 19-km route of Paul Revere.

He's since broken about 150 records -- he holds 61 current titles, the most of anyone on the planet -- but none more nauseating or dizzying than the somersault stunt.

"It had to be continuous, but you have to stop to throw up," recalled Furman, 52, a health food store manager in Queen's, N.Y. "You get to the point where you can't throw up anymore."

Furman was "never an athlete," but he said his energy and stamina comes from his devotion to meditation. While he rolled and suffered and rolled along Revere's route from Lexington to Charlestown, Mass., Furman was fuelled by this mantra: "I am not the body, I am the soul."

"It really helped me," Furman said. "That is the essence of it. Anybody can transcend their physical limits."

Ashrita Furman was born to set records. He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1954 -- the year Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile and just days after officials began compiling the first Guinness book, published in 1955.

"I was fascinated with the book since I was a kid," Furman said. "I couldn't put it down. I was compelled to read it. I used to carry it around with me."

His inspiration to chase world records came in 1978 when, encouraged by his meditation guru Sri Chinmoy, Furman entered a 24-hour bike race in Central Park. With just 10 days training, he rode 644 km over the 24-hour period, taking only a five-minute break.

"I knew it wasn't my body doing it," Furman recalle d. "It was my spirit doing it. (I thought) I've got to tell people about it."

It would take a few tries to get into the record books. With 27,000 jumping jacks, performed over five hours in Central Park, Furman had his record.

"It was a thrill. I still have that same thrill," Furman said. "There are limits, but I really believe every record in the Guinness book I could do. I believe anybody could do it."

Furman has broken records on every continent -- balancing a pool cue on his finger in Egypt, stilt walking in China, underwater juggling in New Zealand, piggyback running in Iceland. He's often inspired by the things he sees around him, a child skipping down the street, for example.

"Most of these records are silly to one degree or another," Furman conceded.

The record he almost never set was scaling Toronto's CN Tower in 1990 -- on a pogo stick. The original bid was to climb the Eiffel Tower to mark its 100th anniversary, but the French said 'non' to the plan. CN Tower officials gave their blessing, but there was one catch.

"I actually had never gone upstairs on a pogo stick," Furman said with a laugh. He practised on the stairs leading up to his apartment, but "I still couldn't get up the six steps of my front stoop."

At the 11th hour, Furman rigged his pogo stick with a metal bar to keep his momentum -- an adjustment sanctioned by Guinness -- and secured his record. (He later defended it in 1999, scaling 1,899 steps in just under 58 minutes.)

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