• For ‘Real Bill,’ exercise is life
     | July 16,2014
    Stefan Hard / Staff Photo

    Retired farmer Bill Kathan Jr. of Brattleboro does backhanded pushups Tuesday outside Montpelier High School. He claimed the 661 he did in 15 minutes is a new world record.

    MONTPELIER — Pulling into the parking lot at Montpelier High School, there is little doubt which vehicle belongs to Bill Kathan Jr. of Brattleboro.

    The van adorned with “Real Bill” and “World Exercise Champion” is the giveaway.

    Kathan, 62, may be trying to hold a record for breaking records. He has a Guinness World Record certificate from 2006 for the most two-fingered pushups within a minute and has appeared on “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” for his achievement of walking backward from Connecticut to Oregon. He has also been featured on ESPN and CNN.

    For the record: It’s safe to say Kathan lives his life a little differently.

    Kathan said he has made it his mission to break as many world records as possible. He claims to have broken 101 records and set 41 first-time ones. Kathan documents all his record-breaking attempts on video.

    He said most of his records don’t appear in Guinness because of what the organization requires for proof.

    “The criteria for the Guinness Book is they have to send out for it and they give you a bunch of papers saying you have to have this and that and we’re the ones that make the (decision) whether you’re in or out,” Kathan said.

    He said he gets the information about world records and what he needs to accomplish to break them from a variety of sources, including Guinness World Records, Ripley’s Believe it or Not and recordsetter.com, as well as by browsing online.

    As far as the challenges that the Brattleboro man believes he is the first to attempt, he said he browses the Internet to verify whether anyone has done them. However, he acknowledged he can’t guarantee nobody has ever attempted any of his feats.

    Tuesday at Montpelier High School, Kathan said, he set two records. First, he balanced a baseball bat on his finger while walking backward for a mile around the school’s track — something Kathan claims no one else has ever completed. He finished in just under 15 minutes.

    Later in the day, Kathan claimed to have set the record for the number of backhanded pushups completed in 15 minutes — 661. He said the previous record was 627.

    Kathan said one of his other achievements is walking more than 16 miles (forward this time) while balancing a baseball bat on his finger. That took him 4 hours and 15 minutes.

    He said he keeps pursuing records as an inspiration to today’s device-oriented youth.

    “I like working with kids,” Kathan said.

    A group of young people watched as he did his backhanded pushups Tuesday.

    Kathan said he started doing competitive exercise when he was in his 50s. He said it’s a hobby for him, but he accepts donations.

    Before getting into exercise, Kathan was a farmer, working in dairy, as well as picking strawberries and apples. He said that when he was 22 he got into boxing but had to give it up after an injury.

    Kathan said he has always been coordinated and athletic.

    “I had it all naturally,” he said. “I’d flip nickels up and down in the air and catch them in my hand. I do a lot of dancing, and that gets me into shape.”

    He said he also plays Frisbee often, which helps with the finger coordination necessary for activities like two-fingered pushups.

    In addition, Kathan has a regimen of daily exercises to stay in shape, including jumping rope, pushups and walking.

    Kathan said one thing that has changed since he started trying to break records is that he is no longer the “self-proclaimed world exercise champion.”

    “I’ve got it patented from New Hampshire and Vermont,” he said. “They know about it, I paid my dues for it, and it’s not self-proclaimed anywhere. I am now the ‘world exercise champion.’”

    Kathan likes to travel around to do his events and said he has been everywhere from the Grand Canyon to Florida, Hollywood and Tennessee. When he’s in Vermont, he lives out of his van in Brattleboro, he said. His record-breaking attempts have generated several newspaper articles and interviews.

    Everything Kathan does, he said, comes back to working with young people. He said he wants to be a mentor to the next generation.

    “That’s what keeps me going. That’s what keeps me doing all these records, because I can work with these kids and try and help them become good kids.”

    At the end of Tuesday’s interview at the school, Kathan concluded in his news-announcer style, “So that’s the way it is, folks. I’m real Bill. So long and thank you. Bye.”

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