Bill Kathan is, no doubt, an exceptionally fit man. But is the 62-year-old from Brattleboro really the "World Exercise Champion," as his graffiti-covered vehicle proclaims?
I spied his 1999 Dodge van around Burlington, upon which he has written, among other things, in bright white paint: “push-ups on two raw eggs with 40 pounds on my back and balancing one raw egg on spoon in my mouth — broken record” and “True natvie [sic] and settler of southern Vermont” — and his cellphone number. I called him.
Turns out, that van is also Kathan's mobile home right now. He agreed to drive up Route 7 to meet me at the Edge on South Burlington’s Eastwood Drive.
Before we embarked on our egg-push-up attempts, Kathan revealed that his obsession with exercise began when he saw a world-record set of jumping jacks — 5,103 in an hour — on "Good Morning America" in 1999. By the following year, Kathan had trained enough to pump out 5,671 jumping jacks ... in front of astonished vegetarian diners at the Country Life Restaurant in Keene, N.H.
“I’m not fake, all my stories are true,” said Kathan, who grew up hunting with his dad and farming with his uncle before discovering, in his “later ages,” his athletic prowess. “I didn’t learn like other kids; I was in eighth grade doing fourth-grade work," Kathan revealed. "I was a pretty fast runner, but I wasn’t too interested in track and field. But I can run backwards faster now than I’ve ever run.”
Bill Kathan and Sarah Tuff
We headed out to his van to retrieve (with a slight delay, given that Kathan had locked his keys inside) a dozen eggs he'd bought from the Price Chopper. He explained how he had walked backwards across the U.S. in four months and 29 days, alone. “I’d park my car, walk backwards, mark where I’d walked to, walk back to my car and then drive to that spot,” he said. “It was tough, but I did it. Everything I do is all by myself. That’s probably why I’m not making too much money right now.”
Indeed, a closer inspection of the van revealed a ragged cut in the rear right side, where Kathan has inked “Donations.” His shoes? “Cheap ones.” His athletic wear: jeans. “I don’t like my legs to be shown,” he said. “But I did strip down to my boxer shorts for Channel 5.”
Back inside the Edge’s gymnasium, I was about to dash to the front desk for a towel when Kathan pulled out his raw eggs and proceeded to bang out 20 push-ups with his knuckles wrapped around the delicate shells. He was focused, though shaking a little, perhaps because of the 100 rapid-fire, modified jumping jacks we had done as a warm-up. (Kathan advises keeping the hands closer to the sides and feet closer together.)
“Now, the eggs are very strange,” he said. “It’s usually up to the egg whether it’s going to stay whole. These are not military-style push-ups. They’re quick hits.”
I figured I had nothing to lose, other than perhaps Kathan’s breakfast and my pride in front of the curious onlookers who had gathered by the glass windows. Gingerly cradling the eggs in my hands, I executed 10 of Kathan’s modified push-ups. Huevos remained intact. I joked that I might challenge him as the world exercise champion.
“Everybody loves to watch me do whatever I do — they can’t get enough of me,” boasted Kathan, who is seeking sponsorships to fund his fitness feats, as well as his dream of opening a nature-based camp for kids. “Back in 2000, newspapers wrote ‘self-proclaimed’ and I’d go along with it. But I’ve been on ESPN, I’ve been on CNN Headline News. People know me now around the world. It’s no longer self-proclaimed. Now it’s the real
world exercise champion.”