By Clay Hicks
On July 12, 2020, a Raleigh (NC) firefighter attempted to break the Guinness Book of World Records mark for “most burpees completed in 12 hours.” Yes, you heard that right–BURPEES!
Nick Christopoulos, a senior firefighter with the Raleigh Fire Department, had been preparing for this day since the end of the prior summer, completing at least 500 burpees on most days. At one point, he would complete 100 burpees when he would return from each call. At Raleigh’s busy station 19, those numbers could really add up.
In case you’ve never attempted a Guinness world record (most of us haven’t), they have very specific rules. For this record, one of the rules was that it had to be in a public place, not tucked away in a basement somewhere. Nick originally planned to make his attempt at Raleigh Fire Station 12, which is large and could accommodate the support team he had coming to assist. Due to COVID-19, however, the city was not letting the public into city buildings, including fire stations. Although the original attempt was planned for late March/early April, the date kept getting pushed back, which meant Nick had to keep pushing back the time he planned to be “peaking.” Finally, the week before July 12, he was told once again that it would be a “no go.” In frustration, we started searching around for local gyms that might accommodate the whole thing, and found the owner of North Raleigh CrossFit, who was more than willing to help. We planned to get started early that morning, and he would make a go of it and see what he could do.
I mentioned rules before, and there were others. Nick had to have a certified trainer to “judge” the movements, along with a few other responsibilities. If he had to get Guinness to send him one, it would cost him around $12,000, which he wasn’t willing to do. He also had to have two score keepers, or counters, ticking every rep off on paper for documentation. He also had to have a camera set up (Nick had two) that could capture both him in the frame and a screen that kept a running tally of his reps, as well as a running clock in the shot. He was also required to do the burpees in a certain way, with arms spread out to the side at the bottom before hopping up to finish each rep. This is a departure from the type of rep one might be used to in a regular garage-gym environment.
MORE FIREFIGHTER FITNESS
Nick had multiple folks supporting him, including his wife, mother, father, and two brothers, along with some other friends. One of his brothers, Chris, who is also a Raleigh firefighter, did a set of 475 burpees with him about four hours in to keep him pacing correctly and motivated. His other brother, Billy, a minor league hockey player, did the same thing some time later. In the last few hours, each brother, along with another Raleigh firefighter named Paul, would take turns doing 25 reps with him to keep him on schedule.
Then there were the “pit stops.” The gym we were in did not have air conditioning, and if you know anything about North Carolina in July, you know that the heat and humidity can be brutal. So every time a scheduled break was taken, whoever was on the pit crew at the moment – his wife, mom, dad, or others – would cover him with towels that had been soaking in ice water to try to counter act the effects of the heat. I don’t know if he would have been able to finish without this to help his body cool down
About six hours in, Nick considered quitting. He started experiencing multiple cramps in several areas, and even his forearms were causing his hands to “posture” somewhat from time to time. This caused him to take an unscheduled “long” break of 8-15 minutes. This concerned him because even if he could keep going, he might not be able to make up the lost time and would still come up short. He did seem to get a second wind not long after this, and though he was feeling it, he was able to keep a relatively steady pace.
In case you’re wondering, he had all the math worked out ahead of time. The old record was 5,234, and he was shooting for 5,300. For the first three hours, he completed 500 reps, then 475 for the next few hours, 450 after that, and so on. He would take a 30-second to one-minute break every 25 reps, a minute or so every 100 reps, and 2-5 minutes every 500 reps. This was the only way he was going to be able to stay on pace.
A small crowd started to gather with two hours to go. Friends who were aware of the attempt and a few nearby fire companies came to cheer him on. With about 15 minutes to go before the deadline, he passed the old record and fell on the floor at 5,235 to the sounds of yelling and applause. He took a few minutes to regain some strength and air, and then continued, finishing number 5,297 when time ran out. The folks at Guinness will go over the video and verify everything, but we’re confident that he’ll be in “the book.”
In my opinion, this was as much or more of a mental challenge than a physical one. Nick set out to reach a goal, and he was able to see it through. This is certainly an example for all of us. We are all capable of so much more than we often settle for. With tight schedules, work and family responsibilities, and other demands, we often take the easy way out. Maybe at least once in a while we should make the hard choice, just because. Growth comes in the struggle, not in the familiar and comfortable. As firefighters, we never know when being familiar with, and that struggle will come in handy.
Clay Hicks is a 24-year veteran of the City of Raleigh Fire Department where he serves as battalion chief.