Recently, I set my 199th Guinness record (since setting my first record in 1979). My friends thought that I should do something special for number 200 and, while I would have preferred to keep the whole thing low-key, my pesky pals wouldn’t hear of it. Unfortunately, over time, they began to convert me to their point of view.
Normally, I don’t do the records in any particular order, but now for number 200, I became picky. I had been training for a gymnastics record, but decided that it wasn’t joyful enough. On the other extreme, my friend Bipin and I had been practicing for the record for the most custard pies thrown in someone’s face from 10 feet away, something that was maybe too joyful-at least for me, maybe not for Bipin! There had to be something in between.
Then, the perfect event dawned on me. I would attempt to break my 200th by spinning an 11.5-foot diameter hula hoop the most times in a minute. It was fun and it was appropriate for a number of reasons. First, my 100th record also involved a giant hula hoop, a 16-foot hoop which was the world’s largest at the time. Second, the 11.5-foot hula record made sense because it was a worthy challenge. You see, I had been training to break this record for almost 2 years!
The record was set in 2006 by a Spanish woman who was able to spin the giant hoop 62 times in one minute. I saw a short clip of her attempt and, with flawless technique, she made it look easy. I was inspired to try. My technique, however, was not that great. I compensated by constantly whipping my body into the hoop to transfer energy from my abs and legs. Whereas the Spaniard’s style could be compared to that of a ballet dancer, I looked more like a bear trying to do the cha-cha!
Anyway, after training for a few months I felt ready to go for the record, but my technique betrayed me. During one practice, I twisted my body with such force that I pulled a muscle in my rib cage! I stopped training for a couple of weeks, but my ribs still hurt as much as ever, so I decided to make the attempt anyway. My friends and I drove up to a racetrack in Vermont and, despite the pain, I was able to smash the record by doing 71 revolutions in a minute- or so I thought.
I confidently gathered all the witnesses’ affidavits and newspaper reports and sent them to Guinness along with a video of the event. A month later, I got the shocking news – the attempt was rejected! Guinness informed me that the witnesses had used the wrong procedure for counting. Because the hula hoop is so big, each rotation of the hoop is counted in relation to the ground and not in relation to my body. According to Guinness, I had actually done only 58 revolutions, five short of breaking the record!
I was disappointed, but undaunted. Over the next year and a half, I experimented with different hoop construction and techniques to improve my speed. Only the diameter of the hoop is specified in the record criteria so a lot could be done with the thickness of the tubing. Every few months, my friends and I would build a new “test” hoop. The testing procedure produced a few exciting failures along the way. One test hoop felt right in every way, but it was just a tad too light. Not having any weights handy and impatient to try it out, I attached some rolls of nickels to the hoop with duct tape. I called a few friends over to time me and count the revolutions. The practice was going great, but the centrifugal force must have loosened up the seal on the rolls of coins because, suddenly, there were nickels flying everywhere, and my friends were running for cover!
My practices continued through the beginning of 2008. The 200th record seemed to be the perfect moment to culminate 2 years of going in circles! Finally, about two weeks ago, I prepared myself for the attempt, to take place in a neighborhood parking lot. With witnesses, cameramen, timers and counters in place, I let out a loud grunt, released my hands from the hoop, and began the intense minute. When the timers told me to stop, I had managed to complete 65 revolutions! What a relief!
My friends were thrilled for me and, much to my dismay, insisted on a celebration party to take place the next day. Ketan, the manager of the local Panorama CafÃ©, offered to host the party at the cafÃ© and began making calls. Another friend, Utpal, posted the video he had taken of the record on his web-site. By the next day, I was getting phone calls and emails from all over the world congratulating me. It was all a bit embarrassing, but paled when compared to the real embarrassment which was yet to come!
During one phone conversation, a horrible realization dawned on me – with all the hoopla (sorry!) surrounding the attempt, the witnesses had forgotten to measure the hula hoop. The official guidelines very clearly state that the hoop has to be certified to be at least 11 feet 6 inches in diameter. I rushed out the door with a tape measure and, within seconds, discovered that the unthinkable had happened – the hoop was 1.5 inches too small! Somehow, we never checked it! And, unbelievably, the witnesses had also neglected to check it! It was a hard reality to swallow – the 200th record was INVALID!
I called Ketan and told him to cancel the party and I got Utpal to remove the video from his website. I stopped answering the phone and, for about an hour, I was really discouraged. Then I realized my mistake – I had fallen into the trap of focusing on the goal and had forgotten that the joy is in the journey. For me, record breaking is a spiritual exercise in self-transcendence and overcoming challenges. Here was another golden opportunity to transcend. I thought of one of Sri Chinmoy’s aphorisms which never fails to inspire me:
“There is only one perfect road and that road is ahead of you, always ahead of you.”
Once I changed my attitude, everything became fun again. I called my friend Bishwas and within an hour the hoop was corrected. The next morning I was ready to make another attempt and, as Yogi Berra once said, “It was dÃ©jÃ vu all over again!” Of course, with one exception – before the start the witnesses diligently measured the hoop-twice! Full of energy, I was able to perform 64 revolutions with the larger hoop and, pending Guinness’ approval, reach the elusive #200.
There were no plans for a party this time, but I have been personally thanking my friends for all their encouragement. I really feel that it is only by God’s Grace, along with Sri Chinmoy’s inspiration, that I have been able to accomplish these records. But God’s Grace operates in many ways, and one way is certainly through my friends, readers and people who I have met, all of whom have inspired and helped me along the way. So, for this 200th record, I would like to offer you all my heart’s gratitude for your constant support. There is so much more I could say but, I’m sure you’ll understand, I feel compelled to rush outside and begin training for #201!