One of the advantages of breaking a Guinness record, as opposed to participating in other athletic competitions, is that you have the freedom to choose the date and venue of your event. The more creative you get with choosing the location, the more opportunity there is for fun and adventure, and the more challenging the event often becomes. The sky is literally the limit! I've been lucky enough to break records while soaring over Vermont in a hot air balloon (not advisable), juggling underwater in an aquarium in New Zealand (thrilling), doing step-ups in Howe Caverns (cool), and hula hooping in the Australian outback (hot).
Unfortunately, it's not always that easy to get permission to follow your dreams, especially when it involves a large building. Once, I had the brilliant idea of trying the high kick record at Radio City Music Hall, but I got politely turned down. When I approached the Burpee Seed Company about doing the squat record, also called "burpees," at their headquarters, I was amazed that they seemed totally uninterested. But my best plan was to break the record for balancing on a Swiss ball in front of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I would dress up all in red, stand on the bright yellow ball, and call it performance art! The museum responded as if I was out of my mind.
Recently, I began training to break the record for doing the most crunches (partial sit-ups) in an hour using an abdominal frame. For the crunch to be considered valid, the shoulder blades have to be completely off the ground. The current record was 8,367 in one hour. As I progressed, I started looking for an exciting place to make the attempt, and I thought of the statue in Manhattan of Atlas holding the world on his shoulders. The guy has some awesome abs! Sadly, the Rockefeller Center people did not share my enthusiasm, and I had less than a week to find a suitable venue. Only one other place came to mind – Paris!
Since the centennial of the Eiffel Tower in 1989, I've wanted to break a record at the famous landmark, but getting permission was impossible. So, I called my Parisian friends and we decided to change our strategy. They found a perfect spot across the river, at Trocadero, with a magnificent view of the Tower, which would not require any special permits. Everything was set – the official witnesses and timers were lined up, the media was alerted, and I cashed in my airline miles. But when I arrived in the beautiful city, instead of being inspired, I was full of trepidation.
It was my own fault. Before the trip, I told a few friends who are exercise fanatics about the upcoming crunch record, and they looked at me in disbelief. According to them, there was no way I could do that many crunches in 60 minutes. "Be sensible, Ashrita", they protested, "that works out to more than 2 crunches a second!" I had actually broken the record in practice, but they doubted entered into me and I began wondering whether maybe I had miscounted. With only an hour to go before the event, I was a nervous wreck.
Fortunately, meditation saved the day. I focused on my spiritual teacher, Sri Chinmoy , and I was filled with a deep energy and eagerness to challenge my limits. I began seeing everything in a new light. The sight of the majestic Eiffel Tower rising into the sky in front of me suddenly wave me a jolt of joy. I began cranking out the crunches in perfect form, and, despite some minor abdominal cramps towards the end, I was able to manage a new record of 8,555 in one hour.
Photo: Ashrita and helpers
The next day, a friend heard an amusing report on the radio. He was aware that I hold records for somersaulting and also for running while balancing a milkbottle on my head, but the news had a fascinating twist. It was announced that an American just broke the record for most crunches in an hour in Paris, and the same fellow also held the record for somersaulting while balancing a milkbottle on his head! Now that would be a challenge!