06/07/2013 10:48 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Making the Impossible Possible

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

I met David Blaine in 2008 on The Oprah Winfrey Show in Chicago. I had no idea what to expect but, like a lot of us, had covered his exploits and fame over the years. I suppose like anyone who forces themselves to endure hours of immobility and concentration, Blaine seemed extremely calm and centered a day before attempting to break the Guinness World Records record for Longest Time to Hold One's Breath Voluntarily. The mark at the time to beat was 16 minutes 32 seconds by Peter Colat from Switzerland set a few months earlier on February 10, 2008.

I have been obsessed by this record, as well as free-diving, ever since I read Francisco 'Pepin' Ferreras's autobiography The Dive: A Story of Love and Obsession. As Blaine himself recounts in his TEDTalk, the physiology involved in holding one's breath for such extended periods of time is an object of fascination. The mind control, the breathing, the decrease in heart rate, the body temperature all seem to come together in what to the outsider seems an amazing moment when we observe what happens when a human being stops doing what keeps the rest of us alive.

The Guinness World Records database started chronicling this record as of March 15, 1959 when, at the age of 32, American Robert Foster voluntarily held his breath for 13 minutes 42.5 seconds in San Rafael, California. Since that date, as chronicled by Guinness World Records, the record has been broken 15 times, seven of which were achieved by the amazing Tom Sietas from Germany. Currently the record is held by Stig Severinsen from Denmark who in May last year held his breath for exactly 22 minutes at the London School of Diving. It is not surprising bearing in mind what is involved that over the years on each occasion the record was broken by only a matter of seconds. Indeed, Blaine's 32.4 second increase is one of the larger margins and is a remarkable achievement.

Blaine's journey from idea to execution is a testament to the effort some people go through in their bid to nudge the envelope a little further, absorbing all the risks that this entails. -- Stuart Claxton

As Blaine mentions, one of his many goals is to make the impossible possible. The beauty and lure of breaking a world record is the fact that once a mark is surpassed you are in unexplored territory and that is what Guinness World Records has celebrated for so many years. The result of this is that we learn more about what we and the world around us is capable of. To paraphrase Norris McWhirter one of the founding editors of our annual book, knowing the extremes also gives one a comfort zone. Once you know what the biggest and smallest is, you can place yourself within the grand order of things.

We have been chronicling ordinary people doing extraordinary things for almost sixty years now and the dedication and commitment that accompanies this process is always extraordinary. Blaine's journey from idea to execution is a testament to the effort some people go through in their bid to nudge the envelope a little further, absorbing all the risks that this entails.

In similar fashion, I remember my very first adjudication which took place in England in July 2000 at Donnington Park Grand Prix Circuit. Jason Rennie was attempting to break the Guinness World Records record for the longest ramp-to-ramp jump on a motorcycle. This record had stood for nine years by American Doug Danger at 251 feet. Sitting on top of his Yamaha YZ250 Rennie explained that in order to attempt the record he had to 1) remortgage his house 2) build the ramps himself and 3) bring together his friends and family to act as his crew for the whole endeavor. In the middle of darkening skies and pouring rain, after years of effort, Rennie beat the existing mark by just two feet before a crowd of amazed onlookers. He would hold the record for a further five years before it was broken again and it now stands at a jaw-dropping 351 feet set by Australian Robbie Maddison in 2008.

Much like Usain Bolt defying those that said the 100 meter record would never be broken again, Blaine and Rennie's feats demonstrate how the record-breaking world does not stop. It is a constant source of wonder and we are always very grateful to be able to chronicle these moments and those people. We thank David Blaine for allowing us to be there with him on the day and for showing us the magic of record-breaking.

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