Nelson's marathon paddle certified as world record by Guinness

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 5, 2013 

And you thought the final five or six hours of Brandon Nelson's ultra marathon paddle around Lake Padden last month were difficult.

In many ways that physical pain and exhaustion was nothing compared to the emotional nightmare he's experienced the past two weeks.

But at 2:06 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 5, Nelson received an email from Guinness World Records Office Manager Jacqueline Angus containing the 10 words he's been waiting nearly nine years to read: "This is to confirm that your record has been approved."

And with that, the Bellingham paddler officially became the world record holder of Guinness' mark for the farthest distance canoed or kayaked on flat water in 24 hours. On Aug. 20-21, Nelson officially went 244.42 km (or 151.87 miles), beating American Carter Johnson's mark of 241.95 km (150.34 miles), set in 2006.

"I haven't slept since," Nelson said in a phone interview Thursday morning. "I was so excited and so relieved. The funny thing is if word had come up until three or four days ago, I was still so exhausted, I know I immediately would have started crying. Even thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. But now, it was more business-like. We accomplished our goal."

But if he had received word three or four days ago, Nelson would have avoided some lost sleep.

Two nights ago, he said he dreamed that Guinness had come back to him and said he finished "a half boat-length short of the record."

Nelson said it actually was another nightmare of a witness at Lake Padden protesting the attempt he had early Thursday morning that awoke him and got him to check his email at 2 a.m.

"It wasn't there yet," Nelson said. "I was like, 'Man, this is killing me.' So I went back and checked at 2:06, and there it was."

The certificate from Guinness Nelson has coveted so deeply is scheduled to be sent by courier on Thursday, according to Angus' email.

"The bottom line for me is with this in hand, I can look up to the sky and blow my mom a big kiss and say, 'That's for you Mom," Nelson said, referring to his mother, Janet, who died seven years ago after battling cancer.

Nelson, who paid a $700 stipend to expedite Guinness' certification process that usually takes up to six weeks, had said he'd hoped to get word by the middle of last week.

But he said that compiling all the verification Guinness requires took a few days longer than he had anticipated, as he and his team submitted 93 pages of data from 16 sources and edited three DVDs of video and photos from the record-breaking attempt.

"I wanted them to look at what we submitted and say, 'This is how a record attempt should be done,'" Nelson said in a phone interview last week.

Despite all the work that went into verification, Nelson said he was quite anxious to hear back from Guinness, even checking his email "every five minutes."

His anxiousness was certainly understandable.

In 2006, the same year Johnson set the old mark, Nelson made his own attempt at the record after two years of working with the Western Washington University Vehicle Research Institute to design a fast and light kayak specifically for the event.

But during the final months of his preparation for that attempt, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. She died at age 55 on the day he had originally scheduled to make the run. Nelson postponed his attempt 21/2 weeks and decided to use it as a platform for an awareness campaign for ovarian cancer and a fundraiser for hospice care.

On May 2-3, 2006, on Lake Whatcom, he paddled 147 miles, which surpassed the published record at the time of 137 miles.

But three days earlier, Johnson made his attempt on Lake Merced in California in relative secrecy, making that the new record when it was certified by Guinness and negating Nelson's claim to the record.

"It was a blow, " Nelson said before his attempt last month." It was frustrating to learn that. It took me years to finally let go of that, even though a lot of people all along said, 'What you did was so successful and such a tribute to your mom. That was just a line-item detail. You did everything you set out to do. You broke the recorded, existing record at the time by 10 miles.' But it was this little asterisk that weighed me down for a number of years."

Nelson called his quest to remove that asterisk and break the record "unfinished business," even stating last week that he was "ready to make a third attempt" if for some reason Guinness didn't certify his latest try.

And that's saying quite a lot, considering what Nelson had to go through last month.

The final five or six hours were particularly taxing, as Nelson had bouts with stomach illness and a state of what Nelson called "caffeine psychosis" brought on by taking too much caffeine to stay alert. Those ailments, plus the obvious physical fatigue of paddling for that many consecutive hours caused him to fall off his Surfski three times, including once only a couple hundred yards shy of Carter's mark.

But each time he got back on and kept paddling.

He gave a lot of credit to his team for keeping him going, writing "A team effort if ever there was one," in an email conversation with his team announcing Guinness' certification.

He ended up completing 87 laps and about two-thirds of an 88th around Lake Padden on a course measured to be approximately 1.73 miles.

"I keep thinking about all the different metaphors for life and business and family," Nelson said on Thursday morning. "I've written a lot of it down. It's miraculous how those 24 hours was a metaphor for so many challenges in life and business. The one I go back to is that when you have goals, it's not always going to be pretty to get there. Getting to this goal definitely wasn't. ... The Hollywood ending isn't always possible. As my dad said the scoreboard doesn't ask 'How?' it's just tells the result."

And the result is a world record, at least for now.

"I keep going back to what I said before we went about just wanting the certificate and not worry about if someone else broke it," Nelson said. "I really meant that. The way I've conceptualized it is 151.87 - that's our number. That number will always stand. That record will be broken, but that number is ours. By ours, I mean the community that came out and supported me and my family's."

Though his wife, Heather, pumped her fist and celebrated official word of the record, Nelson said his kids were more excited just to get him home after the three days he spent in the hospital following the attempt.

"I told them this morning that we got the record, and they just stared at me and went back to eating their blueberry pancakes," Nelson said. "That's what's great about kids."

Nelson said his next big event is preparing for Ski to Sea in May, though he and Heather took their kids in a family kayak out of Wildcat Cove over the weekend, and he just recently got back in the same Surfski he used to break the world record nearly two weeks after the attempt on Lake Padden.

"The first few minutes I was it was jittery and twitching, and I was like, 'No wonder I fell off this thing,'" Nelson said. "But about 10 minutes in, I felt like my old self."

Reach Sports Editor David Rasbach at 360-715-2271 or david.rasbach@bellinghamherald.com .

Bellingham Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service