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Western New Yorker Walks under Water to World Record

Western New Yorker Walks under Water to World Record

Wilkie Breaks World Record

Growing up, my brother and I competed in everything; sports, school, you name it, we both fought to be the best, but this is one thing I think I’ll let my brother keep for himself.

My brother, Joseph Wilkie, a graduate of Cardinal O’Hara High School and currently studying Physical and Health Education at Canisius College, just set the world record for the longest distance walked underwater; walking 73.643 meters (241.61 feet), breaking the former record of 50 meters.

Joe completed the feat at the Aquatic and Fitness Center on Friday afternoon, walking the distance in roughly one minute and twenty seconds; what may be just as impressive is that my brother can hold his breath up to four minutes.

So the obvious question: why?

Two things I know most about my brother are one, he cannot sit still, and two, he enjoys a challenge.

This “hobby” as he calls it, began when he suffered a lower oblique injury back in February, preventing him from performing his usual exercise routine. To try something different, he began walking on the bottom of the pool during his breaks as a lifeguard at the Aquatic and Fitness Center.

It was actually the patrons, who would see him walking below them as they swam laps, who suggested that he find out what the world record was for walking underwater.

So Joe did; he contacted Guinness World Records, and found that the current record for the longest distance walked underwater was 50 meters. He then made it his goal to surpass this mark by the end of this summer.

Is this normal (for a lack of a better word)?

Well, I remember when Joe was 11 or 12 years old, we would go to the pool, and he would be able to swim over 25 meters underwater. He would even challenge the guards, and it wasn’t only impressive because he was just a kid, but because though it is hard to believe, my brother has asthma. His symptoms are not nearly as bad as they were when he was younger, but he still suffers from symptoms from time to time. To anyone else it seems crazy, but to our family and long time friends, it’s just Joe.

Mike Piciulo, the Aquatics Director at the Aquatics and Fitness Center, has known Joe for 5 years, and was as confused as anyone when he first approached him about attempting the world record. After learning more about the record, and seeing what he has done, Piciulo was confident Joe would complete the task.

“He’s driven, he’s driven to do things” said Piciulo, his advice for Joe was “Stop over thinking it, you’ve gone over it in your head, focus on the successes, just be Joe.”

So how does someone go about preparing for this?

To get himself into the best possible shape, Joe has developed a routine. To get to the bottom of the pool, he uses 25 pound weight to sink himself. Joe begins the routine by going “25 meters, [underwater]”then he goes back, and does “some deep breathing at the end.” He then “takes a little bit longer so its 35 meters” and he does more deep breathing, and he goes back to the deep end and does even more deep breathing. By then he’s done “four underwaters, done deep breathing” and once he feels comfortable, he tries to go as far as he can.

At work, Joe is often challenged by his fellow lifeguards, where they try and get into his head, and many have tried it themselves, some have done well he said, but having others try reminds him of the challenge he is overcoming.

“Swimmers who could always beat me in swimming, they try it, and say ‘that’s ridiculous’ they can’t even do 25 meters. It feels rewarding when you know you can beat a really good swimmer, they’ve swam all their life, and have been in the water, and I just do it for fitness.”

What’s the biggest challenge?

“Staying focused; keeping your mind off holding your breath, because when you think about holding your breath, you just want to breathe…keeping the thoughts on what I have to do and holding my breath separate.”

What does it take to make the record official?

In order to verify that Joe completed the distance required, Town of Tonawanda Chairmen of the Youth, Parks and Recreation Committee, Dan Crangle, the Director of the Youth, Parks, and Recreation, Dan Wiles, and the assistant director, Jeff Ehlers were in attendance as a witness to the accomplishment. Along with his verification, video evidence and measurements must be submitted to Guinness to make it official; which I don’t believe will be a problem.

How will it feel when the world record becomes official?

“It will be cool, because not many people can say ‘hey, I’ve got a world record’ I’ve always challenged myself, and I will continue to challenge and hopefully one day break this record, or go on and challenge myself in some other ways.”

Here's a link to see the underwater angle of Joe's accomplisment:


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