By most people’s standard, turning a jump rope 1,871 times qualifies as an athletic triumph, but Peter Nestler did it underwater, submerged in a Raleigh pool — an hourlong, slow-motion ballet punctuated by gasps for air.
He skipped 22 times on the first dive, then 15, settling into a rhythm of seven to nine jumps per breath, a pace to rival the power of Aquaman.
And when Nestler emerged from the water, quarter-sized blisters on his fingers, he owned a new Guinness world record, his ninth in all.
“Honestly,” he said, “all I could think of was, ‘Don’t drown.’”
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Nestler, 35, rules what is surely the world’s most obscure sport, a niche no wider than a dime. He embodies the advice handed to generations of directionless youth: Do one thing, and do it better than anyone else.
A shy boy, born in Alaska, his life’s purpose seized him during a school assembly in the second grade. From there, he fought through mediocrity to turn a rope faster and more artfully than any human, doing it on a unicycle, in swim fins, on his bottom and while glowing in the dark.
In December, Nestler set the global mark for the fastest time hopping a mile on one foot while also skipping rope: 24 minutes, 44 seconds.
Jumping around the world
Now he circles the Earth performing rope tricks in schools, lacking only Antarctica in his quest to jump on every continent. The kid from Alaska who couldn’t order food in restaurants as a child, begging his brother to do it for him, now earns his living as a motivational speaker.
But to me, Nestler’s greatest achievement is this: When he meets people, he can shake their hands, look them in the eye and say, “I’m a professional rope-jumper.”
“Most people just look at me,” he said. “You have the dishonest people who don’t want to look dumb and say, ‘Oh, yeah.’ And you have the honest people who say, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ ”
Nestler knows he chose an oddball passion. But he also knows that people think he’s awesome, mainly because of his approach to it. He lives in Tulsa, but cuts through the Triangle often, to perform and to attempt records in gyms with a certified Guinness judge. The biggest message he tries to get across, one he thinks children today lack, is that nobody is born talented. You can’t shrug your shoulders, say, “I suck at this,” and move on. “We all start out really pathetic,” he said.
His underwater jump followed the same pattern of early failure and slow improvement. The biggest hurdle, excuse the pun, came in finding rope that wouldn’t crumple like a wet noodle while he turned it. After much tinkering, he fashioned his own out of stainless steel.
Next came the breathing. Nestler figured out that if he held his breath underwater for as long as he could, he wasted time gulping for breath when he surfaced. The key came in finding a consistent, comfortable pace that let him dive and surface smoothly.
I asked Nestler how he plans to follow this jump rope feat. With a skydive? Through a hoop of fire?
Stilts, actually. But the particulars aren’t the point. It’s the gradual but steady push for a life of purpose, however strange.