By Marie Mitchell
I was paddling around the EKU pool last summer, beating the brutal heat, marveling at Ingrid’s handstands, front flips and dives and listening to Ruby’s chatter about anything and everything, when another swimmer asked me how long I could tread water.
I checked the clock. I’d been in the pool a couple of hours already, and could probably manage a couple more since we were in no hurry to leave. I’m not one to sit out sunning myself when there is a perfectly good swimming pool to enjoy.
But the comment, and my stamina, did get me thinking. What was the record for treading water, my specialty? I’ve browsed through the Guinness Book of World Records before. It’s chock full of bizarre facts about the tallest, heaviest or oldest person, how fast somebody did something and strange feats like how far someone squirted milk from his eye (nine feet, two inches).
I’d never aspired to having my name alongside such eccentric record holders. Mainly because I never thought I could do anything better than anyone else. Now, all of a sudden, my true talent might earn me a mention in that peculiar book.
I shared my thoughts with Ruby. We wondered what the current record was. Eight hours? 10? That seemed reasonable — and something I could break if I put my mind to it. But there were other things to consider.
First, someone would need to keep me company through those long hours. It would get awfully boring, endlessly swishing my arms and pedaling my legs. I’d need music, a movie or books on tape.
Next, someone must periodically float drinks to me on a small rubber raft, so I stayed hydrated. A few light snacks, fresh fruit and veggies, would help energize me as well.
I’d have to check whether bathroom breaks are allowed — and how often.
Of course there’s the problem of turning pruney from soaking so long. But I was willing to deal with that once I’d set my record.
Then there was the business end to tackle. I’d have to borrow somebody’s pool, round up witnesses to verify my claim, then line up media coverage for final proof.
I was blissfully happy thinking about these possibilities. Until…we got home and did a little research. Which burst my chlorine-filled bubble.
The water treading record wasn’t 10 hours. Or 20. Or 50. It was 85! That’s more than three-and-a-half days. Non-stop (no mention of bathroom breaks). This “unofficial” record was set by two people in India: a 19-year-old Civil Engineering student and a 12-year-old boy on an advanced swim team.
The duo beat the previous record by 20-minutes. And did a full lap around the pool afterwards, to the applause of 4,000 spectators. The show-offs.
I was crushed. But not for long. As I read more about getting into the Guinness Book, it didn’t seem worth the trouble.
Each year, about 50-to-65,000 people contact Guinness about breaking a record. That’s a lot of competition—even spread over multiple categories—some of them very specific, like how fast you can crawl into a zipped suitcase (5.43 seconds), or the most weight lifted by someone’s tongue (27 pounds, 8.96 ounces) or the longest distance walking over hot plates (75-feet, 1-inch). Who even thinks about doing stuff like that?
And, for all the time and effort you put into a stunt, chances are you won’t hold the record for long. The Guinness website indicates that about a fourth of all records are broken every year.
Guinness doesn’t charge anything to process your claim. They’ll even let you invent your own category as long as it isn’t too dangerous and it’s possible for someone else to duplicate your feat.
One guy, Ashrita Furman of New York, who happens to be my age, has set about 400 records across all seven continents. He’s pretty creative, too. He’s somersaulted the route Paul Revere rode to warn people that the British were coming. That’s 12.25 miles. Of course he was pretty dizzy and nauseous when he finished his 8,341 somersaults, not to mention exhausted.
My dream of treading water longer than anyone else pales in comparison to Furman’s records of doing crazy stunts with stilts, pogo sticks, hula hoops, jump ropes, land-bound rowing machines and gunny sacks. Sometimes while balancing things on his chin or juggling things underwater.
But that’s okay. I’m content to tread lightly around a pool for as long as I enjoy the swim—and to quit when I’m tired. I’ll leave the record making and breaking to someone else.