Glass Eater

He hungers for world records?even when they hurt

| November/December 1999

In The Guinness Book of Records there are some individuals who have several records to their name. Most peculiar, to my mind, are the record holders in eating who all seem to have their own area of expertise. Peter Dowdeswell, for example, holds records for eggs, prunes, and spaghetti. Reg Morris, on the other hand, has set less wholesome landmarks, holding records in the frankfurter, kipper, and sausage departments.

In the field of endurance records, two names stand out: Terry Cole, a Londoner, and an American, Ashrita Furman. They have so many records--20 or 30 each--that Guinness publishes only a small selection. They have never met; they communicate by trying to break each other's records. The feats they attempt vary, and it is hard to imagine who conceived of some of them: the record for balancing as many milk crates as possible on the chin, or carrying a brick in one hand as far as possible (with the palm above the brick, so that it is gripped between fingers and thumb). Most share an indifference to skill; they are simply tests of will and endurance.

I went to visit Terry Cole in East London, where he lives alone among a clutter of ornaments, certificates, trophies, and enormous weight-training machines. He also has a small garden, which when I visited was full of milk crates.

His smile revealed a row of gold teeth, and I asked about them.

'No medical reason at all, actually,' he said. 'It's a British record, 14 gold teeth. It was the idea of a manager of mine. He paid for them. Cost him 6,000 pounds.'

One of the first world-record certificates Terry Cole showed me, as he started going through them, was for rolling head over heels for a mile in 24 minutes.

'I saw Ashrita Furman do it on the television in 26 minutes,' he said. 'And I thought, it's feasible to beat that. I'm lucky: I've got a little paved alley at the back of my house. I practice up and down the alley. I put my motorbike helmet on. And away I go. Up and down. A bit of padding on my back. I started off practicing at midday, and I did that for three or four days, and I thought, no, this isn't happening, man. Your coordination goes, and it makes you ever so tired during the day. So I thought, How do you practice and not be tired during the day? And the answer was to practice just before I went to bed. So that's what I did, for about four months.'

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