Former University of Delaware men’s swimmer Kyle Gurkovich set a new world record by doing 4,234 pull-ups in a 24-hour period from 8 a.m. Nov. 15 to 8 a.m. Nov. 16.  

The 28 year-old 8th grade math teacher at Quibbletown Middle School in Piscataway, N.J. initially set the record in June 2014, before Australian Caine Eckstein broke it in October.

A two-year performer for head coach John Hayman’s squad, Gurkovich was a two-year letterwinner in 2005-07 and specialized in long distance freestyle events.

Below, Gurkovich (’08) discusses his training, his motivation, the record, and his time at UD.

Q: When did you start doing pull-ups and when did you realize that you could break a world record?

Gurkovich: I’ve always had a lot more strength in my upper body compared to my lower body. I was always the best puller on my swim team, but the absolute worst kicker with my toothpick legs. In high school, I climbed the gym ropes to the ceiling with a rope in each arm pulling all the way up. Last summer, I was able to get 62 wide grip pull-ups in a row. After doing that, my workout buddies and I were joking around and looking up Guinness records and saw that the pull-up record was 4,030 by U.S. Navy Seal David Goggins. I decided to do a practice session of 600 pull-ups and I was fine, then the next week I did a session of 1,000 pull-ups in little over three hours, and the next day I didn’t even feel like I did a workout. I knew this was in my reach.

Q: How do you train for this kind of record?

Gurkovich: I’m kind of a workout freak. I go to the gym about three times a day. I lift very heavy in the morning before I go to teach. After school I go back for a cardio/abs session, then I go to coach swimming, and after practice I go back for another round of cardio/abs. That is my normal routine for the week. During the weekends leading up to the pull-ups, I would do long sessions mimicking what I’d do at the event. I would train at five pull-ups per minute. I went in sessions of 600 all the way up to 2,000 for about eight weeks.

Q: Before breaking the record, what was the hardest physical activity you’ve ever done?

Gurkovich: Every year until this year I competed in the World’s Toughest Mudder, which is a 24-hour event in November or December where you go through the course as many times as possible. I’ve done this the first three years of its existence.

Q: Are there any similarities between your mentality when competing in the swimming pool and when you were trying to break the world record?

Gurkovich: When I was 15, my club coach told me that I had absolutely no talent for swimming and my only talent was my ability to work hard, but I could succeed if I did x-y-z. Basically, I had to do twice or even three times as much work as the normal person to get the same result. Every practice I’d literally swim 15,000-20,000 yards and it worked great. If I ever did a normal workout, I wouldn’t see many results. I seem the same now with lifting in the gym. I don’t get much results doing what everyone else does, I have to do much more. I’ve tried it all, it’s just not my body type. Hence I work out three times a day most days.

Q: When you’re doing that many pull-ups in a short amount of time, how much of your success is predicated on mental strength vs. physical strength?

Gurkovich: Honestly, my first attempt I was completely fine with both. I went 16 hours and did 4,182 pull ups and was forced to stop because I had no witnesses from the hours of 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. I could have kept going at a solid pace and gone passed 5,000, but unfortunately no one signed up for that shift to make it official. Physically I was great, mentally I was fine, since I do all those 24-hour races in the past. You get recharged mentally when you see people come in to support you. People I see on a regular basis, people I haven’t seen in years, all the way down to people I’ve never seen in my life.

The second attempt was so much more difficult. Physical injuries coming into the event that I thought I got rid of came up and I had to switch up my routine, which caused other injuries to occur and over the day they stacked up. It was extremely rough by the end knowing that just five months ago, I was at the same spot in seven hours less time and feeling much better. There were times I wanted to quit, but I knew how many people believed in me and I didn’t want to disappoint. It was a huge mental and physical struggle the last couple hundred pull-ups to get up there and do them. I was in the most horrific pain of my life for the last couple of hours, but I kept pushing through it.

Q: At what number does the pain start to set in? What does it feel like?

Gurkovich: When I broke the record in June, I felt a pop in my right forearm about 1,000 into the event. It really annoyed me considering I had done a practice session of 2,000 several weeks before with no issues. I fought through it and sort of pretended it was a cramp and got to 4,180 in 16 hours (the previous record was 4,030). I was forced to stop at 16 hours because I was unable to get two people to act as Guinness official judges from the hours of 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. When 6 a.m. came around my body was completely shot from resting that long and I could only get two more in before I couldn’t take the pain. I was upset because I had broken the 24-hour record and only did 16 hours of pull-ups. I wanted to do 24 hours, so I signed up again for the record five months later.

In early October, I injured my left arm in the bicep. I couldn’t do one pull-up without pain in the forearm and bicep. I went to physical training, acupuncture, and massages literally every day in between work and workouts. I was able to miraculously get healthy enough for the day of. The problem was it wasn’t fully healed and I had to change my pull-ups to compensate for the pain and went with an extremely wide grip. About 900 into this event my shoulder started to ache with serious pain. I changed my grip and then my left bicep started to hurt more adding to the pain. About 2,000 pull-ups in I remember texting my friend saying the pain level was about an 8 out of 10. I kept going and had to keep cutting down the amount of pull-ups I did, causing me to seriously slow down the pace I was at the last time. From 3,500 until I was done, it was the most painful experience of my life. I remember 4,000 and on it was just horrifying in my mind thinking I’d have to keep going back up every time. It was so much different from the first attempt.

In the end, with eight extra hours I was only able to do 52 more pull-ups, which was not at all what I had planned, but the injuries caused major problems this time. I didn’t reach my goal of breaking 5,000, which I was on pace for at the first attempt. I still have that in mind, but I am going to wait more than five months in between and will possibly go for the record again in 2016.

Q: Being a teacher, how would you use your accomplishment as a teaching tool for your students?

Gurkovich: It’s really about the goal. If you’ve got a goal, go for it. Don’t let people tell you you can’t do something, don’t let what you are stop you. A big thing people couldn’t believe was that a math teacher could do something like this. People asked me where my pocket protector was. I learned some big lessons this time with plans. When plan A didn’t work, switch to B, when that didn’t work switch to C and so on, but you have to keep your head up. The quote “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” by Mike Tyson really came to mind this time. I kept getting punched in the mouth and had to keep switching up the plan.

Q: By doing this, you were hoping to raise money for pediatric cancer. How did the fundraising go? Why is this particular cause so important to you?

Gurkovich: I teach 8th grade math and two school years ago a student named Daniel Nols was diagnosed with cancer and this past February he passed away. I knew how the students felt, because I also lost a childhood friend to cancer at an early age. I reached out to the parents of Daniel’s and told them I was doing this event and I’d like to raise money in his name. They told me that was fantastic and they’d like me to raise the money and donate it to Sloan-Kettering in his name. It was definitely the right place, considering my friend who died also went to Sloan-Kettering for treatments as well. We did that for both events and so far it has reached just about $12,000 for the year.

Q: What did you enjoy most about swimming for Delaware?

Gurkovich: I loved the team chemistry and the tradition. From the swimmers to the coaches I had a fantastic experience. I still keep in touch with swimmers and coaches from that time and always look forward to Homecoming and other UD events. Conference meets were always awesome and brought everyone together in a big way. It was always the highlight of the year.

Q: How has your experience at Delaware shaped who you are today?

Gurkovich: To this day, anyone who asks me I tell them it was the best decision I ever made. I absolutely loved every part of it. I felt my major got me completely ready for the real world. The people and connections I have made there cannot be replaced. It is a place that I thoroughly enjoy coming back to every year whenever I can get there.

Q: What’s next? Do you have any other goals similar to the pull-up record that you want to accomplish?

Gurkovich: Like I said earlier, I still want my goal of 5,000. I am actually better with dips. They don’t have a 24-hour record, but Guinness told me they would give me a goal and, if I made that goal, the record would be mine. Dips in a minute would be nice and not too time consuming. The current record for that is 119.

Those are the three in my mind at this moment. I’d like to definitely keep raising awareness and funds for pediatric cancer. I’ve developed a strong passion for it over the years.

To donate to the Team Gurk charity, please click here.