Note: a good chunk of the information from this article comes from both the Wikipedia profile of Ashrita Furman, and a New Yorker article by Alex Wilkinson profiling assorted Guinness world record holders, which you can read by clicking on the links below:
I saw a profile of Ashrita Furman on the HBO show “Real Sports” a few years back, and I immediately fell in love the the story. Ashrita Furman is one of those those folks where I’m convinced that should there not be any like him, the world would be a darker place.
As children, a number of us pore thought The Guinness Book of World Records, and entertain thoughts of breaking one of them. Of course, after trying to write smaller than anyone else or stand on our head longer than anyone else, or whatever else we try to do better, farther, faster, and/or longer than anyone, we give up.
As of this moment, according to Wikipedia, Furman holds 191 world records. You read that right, 191. Of course others have gone on to break a number of the records that he set in his lifetime, so if you count every single record he set (not just the ones he currently holds), the number tops out at 367.
Many of these records seem downright goofy, but the more that I think about them, the more that I think about the awesome shape someone has to be in to try them. Furman, for example, holds the record for running the fastest mile with a milk bottle on his head. Again, this makes me smile, until I read the time: seven minutes and forty-seven seconds.
Just try running a mile in seven minutes and forty-seven seconds. See how you feel after this.
When I was in my twenties, I ran five miles a day in about forty minutes; this was considered top physical shape.
Ashrita Furman ran five miles in less than 40 minutes...wearing stilts.
There are other records that, again, sound amusing until I think about what goes into them. In 1986, he did 8,341 summersaults over twelve miles, which took him over 10 hours. Other folks who try to break a lot of records don’t go near this one, apparently; the cramps, vertigo, and nausea are just too much.
Of course, there are others, many, many others. The trip up Mount Fuji and back on a pogo stick (about 32 miles); walking up Machu Picchu, elevation over 10,000 feet, on stilts; the fifteen-minute, three-second Great Wall of China jaunt on a hopping ball; splitting twenty-seven apples in half in a minute with a samurai sword; and so on.
Setting these records is something of a spiritual quest for Furman, who runs a health food store in Jamaica, Queens, and was not much of an athlete as a child. Born with the name Keith, he became of a follower of spiritual guide named Sri Chimnoy. He then took on the name Ashrita (Sanskrit for “protected by God”), and in 1978 competed in a 24-hour bicycle race in New York City, finishing third (he completed over 400 miles).
Furman doesn’t have any endorsement deals or anything like that. He completely funds his own endeavors, preparing for them in his off hours. Sometimes, he even practices in the store, as when he spent nights preparing for the fifty straight hours that he clapped.
Try clapping for even an hour straight, at the rate of 140 claps a minute, each audible from 100 yards away; it can’t be easy.
There is something about Furman that that's downright heroic. Yes, Edmund Hillary climbed Everest because it was there, but that was just one accomplishment, which, admittedly, many would place as somewhat more challenging than the longest walk with a milk bottle perched on the head (80.96 miles, during which children tried to break the bottle with slingshots and tossed rocks, a bus driver deliberately drenched him by driving into a puddle, and another person tried to startle him by sneaking behind him and barking like a dog). Still, though, for sheer volume, when contemplating Hillary’s legendary phrase, it simply becomes clear that in the case of Furman, there is a whole lot of “There” there, and there is something about it all that is dizzyingly, charmingly life-affirming.