Jun 20, 2022

  • Ryan Hockensmith

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      Ryan Hockensmith is a Penn State graduate who joined ESPN in 2001. He is a survivor of bacterial meningitis, which caused him to have multiple amputation surgeries on his feet. He is a proud advocate for those with disabilities and addiction issues. He covers everything from the NFL and UFC to pizza-chucking and analysis of Tom Cruise’s running ability.

ANTHONY ROBLES IS CRUTCHING, and he is crutching fast.

It’s only 7:58 a.m. on this day in May, but Robles, the NCAA champion wrestler at Arizona State born with one leg, is practically skiing in the air, even though he’s carrying two backpacks around his wrists, and a box in his hands. He operates his crutches with just his armpits — they have gotten so strong and calloused in his 33 years on Earth that they can squeeze and push and pull just like hands. These days, he can crutch a mile in eight minutes.

Robles is making his way inside the headquarters of the Desert Financial Credit Union in Phoenix to attempt the hardest thing he has ever done in his remarkable life: break the Guinness World Record for pullups in 24 hours.

With 62 minutes to go before 1,440 consecutive minutes of absolute hell, Robles and his wife pause for a moment in the middle of the room to get a lay of the land. In the far corner, a five-person team of Guinness World Record representatives is prepping their setup of cameras and computers to be able to livestream the entire day.

There are two ways to set a Guinness record. One is to film and document everything yourself and submit it to Guinness for a lengthy evaluation period. It can take a year to hear back. The other is to pay to get the U.K.-based Guinness to come in person with cameras and judges, which includes the added bonus of being able to have the record confirmed on the spot. That’s what Robles’ camp chose, with a total cost of around $15,000, according to Robles’ manager. (The total cost of the event was $60,000).

Several credit union employees have set up food and drinks on a table for the production team, just on the other side of a roped-off viewing area with space for about 50 members of the general public. Robles crutches over to the middle of the room where his home pullup station is set up. He has a light green papasan chair a foot away from the bar, with a 2-inch-thick wooden plank to hop onto before he jumps up onto the bar.

He surveys everything once more before the 9 a.m. start time, then heads into the far right corner, to a curtained-off area for Robles, his wife, Laura, and mom, Judy. As unlikely as the story of a boy with one leg growing up to become the nation’s most dominant college wrestler might be, so too is the idea that the same kid could become the greatest pullup machine in history. This is his sixth attempt at various Guinness pullup records, and he currently holds the mark for the most pullups (23) in one minute with an 80-pound weight on his back. Today, he’s trying for his most unthinkable, potentially dangerous challenge: 7,716 pullups in 24 hours.

This will be it for him. He recently took over as head wrestling coach at his alma mater, Mesa High School, and Laura found out she’s pregnant. He’s 33 years old, and he says he’s ready to turn the page on his athletic career. For one last time, he wanted to try to live up to the title of his autobiography, “Unstoppable: From Underdog to Undefeated: How I Became a Champion.” So he has trained for almost two years to go out with a bang.

“I’m excited about this next chapter of my life — I promised Laura that this would be it,” Robles says, nodding toward his wife, who smiles back. He lays his crutches down in the back and sits down for the last bit of rest before he begins his quest.

“It’s going to be the most grueling thing I’ve ever done, physically and mentally,” he says. “But I’m pretty confident I am going to do it. And then I can walk away.”

Robles attempts to break the pullup record in Phoenix. His gameplan? Knock out 12 pullups per minute. Caitlin O’Hara for ESPN

IN THE PAST 50 YEARS, there have been more fitness fads than you can shake a Shake Weight at. Remember Bowflex? Tae bo? Body by Jake? Even certain old-school exercises have gone out of fashion. A recent story in The Atlantic made a compelling case that the situp is not only outdated but also potentially dangerous to spines and cores. Same with crunches.

But then there’s the pullup, which is right there alongside the pushup and squat as the reigning, defending champions of strength training. The pullup is defined as gripping the bar with the palms facing outward (pullups with palms facing inward are considered chin-ups). Pullups primarily work the forearms and upper back and are still embraced by the U.S. armed forces as a training evaluator. They’re incredibly simple and very difficult to do.

“The pullup is a great exercise,” says Pete McCall, a renowned fitness trainer and educator. “You don’t necessarily need fancy equipment. It’s a great standard for testing strength because it’s just you versus gravity.”

That’s what got David Goggins’ attention a decade ago. By the time Goggins wrote his surprise 2018 bestseller, “Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy The Odds,” he had already become a legend in the fitness world. Goggins had survived a horrific, abusive childhood to become a Navy SEAL, then an Army Ranger School graduate, then a wildland firefighter, then an ultramarathon and endurance athlete A-lister. His body has lived three lifetimes, and Goggins is still somehow only 47.

In the book, he describes constantly seeking the next big challenge in recent years and settling on one more physical obsession — he wanted to set the world record for the most pullups in 24 hours. The number was 4,020 and had been established in 2011 by Stephen Hyland, the legendary British fitness guru, now 69, who is known as “the oldest gymnast in the world.”

David Goggins with Senator Marsha Blackburn before former President Trump’s State of the Union on February 4, 2020. Alex Brandon/AP

Goggins loved the absurdity of trying to do that many pullups over such a long stretch of time. It would take precision and relentlessness and a little bit of recklessness. And so Goggins went for it — three times, including once live on the “Today” show. He failed at his first two attempts, turning his hands into what he called “hamburger meat” and coming down with rhabdomyolysis once. Rhabdo is the body’s way of screaming to stop performing physical activity because of dangerously high glucose levels, and about 3-5% of people with rhabdo die from it every year. It is exercising your body to death, and for people like Goggins, it is the No. 1 concern.

It’s also part of the allure.

Goggins didn’t stop. On his third attempt, in 2013, he broke the record, finishing with 4,030. Goggins had already become an endurance athlete A-lister, so his pullup record attempts began to drum up interest. In “Can’t Hurt Me,” the pullup record serves as the book’s grand finale. The self-published memoir became a breakout hit, selling 4 million copies.

Goggins had made the pullup cool, setting off a literal arms race around his 24-hour record. It’s been broken so many times — 12 — over the past nine years that the record itself might have set a record for most attempts and most breaks. After Goggins needed three attempts to get to 4,030, the current pullup record has almost doubled since then.

Robles started training hard after he read the book, focusing primarily on one-minute pullup records with various amounts of weight on his back. He played his part in boosting pullups to the world record A-list, too — Robles attempted records in front of one NASCAR stadium crowd and at an NFL game, and he loved the pressure of competing in front of thousands.

There’s something especially poetic about Robles and pullups. Wrestling is a sport that requires a kind of ruthless cruelness — slapping heads, cranking necks and smushing faces into the mat are not just necessary, they’re celebrated. For his first few years in high school, Robles got taken down and rag-dolled, with his chin literally wiped across the mat over and over again. But Robles adapted and began using a style that became a metaphor for how he lives. He stayed grounded, his one leg bent underneath his torso, waiting for the right moment … then he’d surge forward and topple people with his speed and strength.

“I saw myself as a snake,” he says. “Extended, I’m not that dangerous. But when I’m coiled up, that’s when I can strike. That’s when I’m deadly.”

Robles dominated the 125-pound weight class during his four years at Arizona State University. He ended with a 122-23 record and took home a National Championship in 2011. Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Once he got control of an opponent, it was over. He brutalized guys from the top position, morphing into a 125-pound blanket on their backs, applying relentless pressure. He’d become what he endured and won a national title in 2011 — a feat Nike founder Phil Knight called the greatest athletic accomplishment he’d ever seen. So when Robles does pullups, drawing himself toward the sky, it’s a beautiful coda to a sports story that began flattened, face-first, on the wrestling mat.

The more he thought about Goggins’ book, the more he felt on fire to branch out from short pullup records and try the 24-hour challenge. But around the same time Robles launched on a two-year ascent plan to break Goggins’ record, a lonely, heartbroken former Army Ranger in Georgia had made the same decision.

BRANDON TUCKER HAD PLANNED to be an Army lifer. He’d had an outstanding Army career, eventually becoming a member of the hallowed Rangers. But in 2018, a routine medical check discovered he had ulcerative colitis, which led to a discharge. He wasn’t sure what to do with his life, and that’s right around the time his marriage fell apart, too. He felt adrift and took a job working as a personal trainer at a gym in Columbus, Georgia.

“What is my purpose?” he’d ask himself every day. He’d always shrug. He didn’t know.

But then he read Goggins’ book and started writing down the pullup record on pieces of paper every day. His training was pretty half-assed, though. In between clients at the gym, he’d jump up on the pullup bar and power through 11 or 26.

He did 26 instead of 25 because he always threw one in for his Airborne Ranger in the Sky, Ronald Kubik, who’d been killed in Afghanistan in 2010. Army Rangers typically take on a deceased soldier as inspiration, somebody they would try to think of and honor every day. During workouts, many Rangers tack on one extra rep in every set for their Airborne Ranger in the Sky. “The idea is to keep the memory of that soldier alive,” he says.

One day in late 2018, Tucker sat down with a potential client to sign her up for a gym membership and start mapping out her goals. She pointed at a note on the pegboard in the office and said, “What’s that?”

Tucker chuckled and said, “Oh, that’s just a stupid goal I came up with for myself. Just ignore it.” Tucker asked for her name for the membership form.

“Mary,” she said, then waited till he finished writing to say her last name. “Kubik.”

Tucker wrote the “K” and then stopped cold.

“Wow, that’s weird,” he said. “You don’t know somebody named Ron Kubik, do you?”

Her eyes got a little bigger. “Ron Kubik was my brother,” she said.

They both had electricity shoot up their spines at the improbability that Ron Kubik’s sister walked into a gym in Georgia and sat down with the Army Ranger who did extra pullup reps every day in his honor as he looked for meaning in his own life. They talked about Ron for a while, in total disbelief at this small world we live in, and Mary finished up her application. In the end, she pointed back at the pegboard. “You have to try to break the record,” she said.

Tucker did his best to blow her off, saying that it would be a complex proposition to put together a team, find some camera people and pay for the Guinness application.

“Brandon, I am an event planner,” she interrupted. “I will set up everything. Let’s do this together.”

And so they did. Almost a year after reading about the record in Goggins’ book, Tucker walked into the gym he worked at and set up shop in the back. With a small team of people, including his dad, Tucker followed a very strict strategy he’d built for himself: three pullups every 30 seconds, with almost no breaks, over and over and over again for 24 hours.

Brandon Tucker, a former U.S. Army Ranger, performs a muscle up in January. Tucker holds the current record for performing the most pullups in 24 hours. Alex Skowronski/Columbus Dispatch via USA Today Network

By the halfway point, he’d blown past Goggins’ original record — which had been broken several times since the Navy SEAL set it — and Tucker still felt pretty good. When Tucker tried to lay down and close his eyes for a half-hour nap, he couldn’t sleep even though he was exhausted. He came back out after 30 minutes of staring at his eyelids and kept going.

By the time he was done, Brandon Tucker had done 7,715 pullups, never more than 10 in a minute. His muscles were sore and his head was foggy, and he couldn’t believe the damage done to his hands. He’d switched gloves repeatedly and run his hands through a bucket of rice to try to quickly dry them and soothe them between sets. It didn’t matter, though — there was still more skin ripped off than left behind.

He slept for a good 12 hours the next day, and when he woke up, he could barely stand up to get out of bed. His hands, arms and back had been so torn up that he didn’t even notice how destroyed his calves and toes were. He’d jumped onto the pullup bar around 2,500 times the day before, and his calves were barking for a week afterward.

But as he sat there in his bed, his dad fixing him some food in the other room, Tucker felt like an ecstatic toddler — barely able to stand up, waiting for a parent to make him some yummy lunch. He kept thinking about that number — 7,715 — and how he’d set a goal, got a nudge from the universe and then demolished one of the most renowned fitness records in the world.

He’d found a purpose, and couldn’t help but think how damn near impossible it would be for the next glutton who tries to beat it — and he wondered if that glutton might be him.

IF TUCKER WAS THE TORTOISE, Robles had a hare plan. He wanted to shoot out of the gate with 8-12 pullups per minute for several hours. Robles had done extensive training runs, getting as high as 750 pullups per hour, and he did 4,700 pullups in nine hours at one point. He liked the idea of getting ahead of the pace and building a buffer in case he needed rest.

But game days are always a little different than practice, no matter the sport, and Robles’ record attempt is no different. Time sneaks up on Robles and he seems a little surprised when Guinness’ stream goes live at 8:55 a.m. before the 9 a.m. start.

When his coach, Andre Hicks from the nearby Neuro Force One sports academy, tells him the clock is at 9 a.m., though, Robles pops up out of his chair and onto the bar.

“You got this,” Robles’ wife, Laura, yells, and the attempt begins.

He powers through 12 pullups in 13 seconds, then drops down to the chair. The clock staring him in the face is a little wonky at first — Robles wants it to read 1 minute as he hits the bar, then his goal is to rip off as many pullups as possible in the next 10-15 seconds, before re-anchoring down in his chair as the clock ticks down from 45, 44, 43. Then he plans to do it all over again, for something like 1,250 of the day’s 1,440 total minutes.

It’s hard to watch Robles surge onto the bar and grind out every single rep, then collapse into the chair and stare at the clock. All that hard work for 45 seconds to catch his breath, a constant countdown to 15 more seconds of torture.

The crowd roars as he racks up his first 12. There are several local TV crews filming live, in addition to the Guinness stream on YouTube. Two paramedics in orange shirts that simply say “Medical” on the back munch on breakfast as Robles’ two official counters discuss his first set.

The counters are required by Guinness to track every single pullup individually, then confer quickly to affirm the official total every time Robles stops. It’s hard to fathom, but Guinness guidelines require two new counters every four hours because of how tiring it can be just to accurately count the preposterous athletic feat being attempted in front of them.

Robles powers through 12 more the next minute, then 12 more in the third minute. He’s at 36 pullups, and it’s 9:03 a.m., and the people in the room are losing it as they cheer him on. Robles has one earbud in, listening to a mix of hip-hop and rock. His open ear is meant for his trainers to either amp him up or coach him up. But for one of the only times of the day, Robles turns and smiles toward the crowd, which fires them up even more.

By 9:19 a.m., he has 218 pullups and the first beads of sweat are forming on Robles’ head … and the first sign of trouble is on his face. He has monitors around his waist, and his trainers let him know his heart rate seems too high. He already knows that, though — between the unexpected mad dash right before 9, the adrenaline dump of the first 19 sets and the stimulation of a crowd cheering for him, Robles feels off.

He’s told to drop his reps down to three or four per minute for a bit, to see if they can get his heart rate down a bit. “It’s a mini anxiety attack,” says his manager, Gary Lewis. “But he’ll be fine.”

Lewis is an interesting character in Robles’ orbit. He’s a 71-year-old former TV producer who dabbled in managing certain parts of athletes’ careers (namely, book deals) when he got to age 60. He expected to be retired by now. But he loves Robles like a son, and he marvels at the former wrestler’s ability to never accept the physical limitations of the body given to him.

“I’ve worked with a lot of accomplished athletes in my life, including Michael Jordan,” Lewis says. “But I’ve never met anybody like Anthony Robles. He’s from a different mold — nobody has his mental makeup.”

Robles rests between sets as his wife Laura massages his forearm. He promised her this would be his final attempt to break such a physically taxing fitness record. Caitlin O’Hara for ESPN

By 9:53 a.m., Robles’ heart rate is fine, and his pullup count has surged to 499. He’s starting to shovel down energy bars and water between sets to offset the tremendous calorie burn happening every minute. At 10:02 a.m., he crutches out to the bathroom, past three credit union security guards who stopped by for a look.

By 10:04 a.m., he’s back on the bar, getting some instruction from Hicks. They’ve been working together for almost two years, usually in quiet rooms with no one watching, and their bond is special. Robles’ head darts up and down quickly as he listens to Hicks, and there’s a surprising amount of eagerness in his eyes. He’s the star of this show and everybody in his orbit satellites around him. But throughout the day, he always looks like a rookie boxer between rounds, trying to soak in every word of coaching.

At the 91-minute mark, Robles is still chugging along, with 745 pullups, well ahead of the record-breaking pace. But there are more red flags popping up. He has a knot on each forearm, and his wife and trainer take turns hitting him with a massage gun in between reps.

When that isn’t working, they warm up small heat packs in a slow cooker. One of the packs gets too hot, though, and singes a dime-sized piece of skin off Robles’ forearm. He is unflinching. Robles was born to a 16-year-old mom, Judy, and has never met his dad. He was excluded and pushed around for being the kid with one leg, and even when he fell in love with wrestling, he took lumps bigger than the ones his wife is using a massage gun on. A wrist burn or two barely registers.

He manages to hit 1,000 pullups at 11:08 a.m., and he’s at 1,907 when two new counters sub in at the four-hour mark. The counters are mostly Robles’ local friends and wrestling coaches, but they’ve been instructed to be ruthless about his pullups. The outgoing crew warns the incoming two — a pair of Robles’ Arizona State coaches — that he’d had a few sets where his chin didn’t come completely over the bar on a few tries. “You can’t count those,” they’re told.

At the six-hour mark, Robles is at 2,211, about 1,100 ahead of the pace to break the record. He’s gassed out a bit, but that was the plan — to rocket out of the gates and set himself up for a half-hour break around this point.

Robles motors out of the room on crutches, with his wife and Hicks trailing behind. The credit union has set aside an old bank vault for Robles to lay down on an air mattress, and he disappears out of the room.

Two kids, a boy and a girl both under the age of 12, stand at the roped-off area as Robles crutches by. “He’s gonna do it,” the boy says when Robles passes by. “He’s gonna be the pullup king!”

Robles stretches while talking with his mom Dr. Judy Robles, an assistant dean at Arizona State. “I’m not really nervous,” she said. “I know he’s going to do it.” Caitlin O’Hara for ESPN

WHEN ROBLES FIRST STARTED DOING PULLUPS, he focused on his astonishing power and speed — he weighs 145 pounds but bench-presses about twice that — to try 1-minute challenges. He briefly held the world record with 62 pullups in 60 seconds at the 2-minute warning of a Jets game in 2018 (it’s since been broken).

Robles began to wonder, though, how he’d do in a more punishing test of his body, and that’s how he ended up in a credit union lobby in May, six hours into an excruciating record hunt, crutching back from a half-hour break.

Sure enough, at exactly 3:30 p.m., Robles is on the bar. He pounds out a bunch, still at a high pace, and is at 2,380 by 3:45 p.m. But these are the dog-day hours of the challenge, with a dwindling crowd, and he needs 5,000 more to get within striking distance.

Laura and Hicks are still taking turns periodically working over his wrists with the massage guns, and Robles gobbles up another 120 to hit 2,500. It seems fairer now to calculate his overall pace, and Robles is on track for around 8,500 pullups, even with some breaks built in. He’s at 2,690 by 5 p.m., when Hicks helps him grab his crutches to head for the vault for a planned 45-minute break.

His mom decides to duck out of the room at the same time to change out of her business suit. She is an assistant dean at Arizona State and had been watching her son as much as possible in between Zoom meetings. Doctors shrugged when she’d asked why her baby boy son hadn’t ever developed a second leg, and she’s never gotten a better answer other than sometimes it happens. She’d dropped out of high school after she had Anthony, then got her GED before chipping away at a college degree. A few weeks ago, she earned her doctorate in higher education to officially become Dr. Judith Robles. She is as unstoppable as her oldest son.

She returns to the room a few minutes later, and Dr. Judith Robles is gone, replaced by Anthony Robles’ mom, Judy, decked out in all Raiders gear. The Raiders are their thing.

“I’m not really nervous,” she says, sans laptop for the first time all day. “I know he’s going to do it.”

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At precisely 5:45 p.m., Robles is at the bar again, unleashed once more from the vault. He cranks out eight immediately, and the current crowd of 25 roars. He’s going to need this second shift of supporters to propel him into the night. He looks fresher than you’d expect as he bangs out 20 more in the first three minutes since unvaulting himself.

At 5:52 p.m., he does his first one and suddenly drops down from the bar with a horrified look on his face. Hicks comes over and starts massaging his left biceps, then pulls a bag of ice out.

The game plan had been for Hicks to hand off to another member of Robles’ team by now. But he loves Robles, too, and decided to stay on for the long haul. It was hard not to notice him staring up at Robles all day, unknowingly tilting his head back and pushing his chin over an imaginary bar in unison with Robles. It had been Andre and Anthony for almost two years, together at a pullup bar, with no cameras, no cheers, just the two of them.

A terrible silence comes over the room. Hicks signals for the medical team to come in, and a paramedic takes the lead. He crouches down and rubs his hands slowly over Robles’ biceps. They’re all whispering in a large room full of people, but it’s so still and quiet that you can hear their words.

The paramedic asks Hicks to touch a spot on Robles’ biceps, and says, “I can’t tell if it’s a tear.”

“Let’s give it a minute,” Hicks says.

Four minutes go by. Then five, and six, and seven. Robles tries another pullup and only makes it halfway. He waits another minute, then hops on the bar again. He only makes it halfway before dropping to the ground. The paramedic crouches down and looks at his biceps again, and there’s more whispering.

Finally, the paramedic looks up at Robles and says devastating words that are just loud enough to hear: “If you were my son, I would tell you to stop.”

Laura stands beside Robles with her hand around his shoulders, and Robles reaches down and pulls his black sleeveless shirt up over his head to make a hood. It’s over, but nobody wants to say it out loud. Robles dabs some paper towels around his eyes, and you can hear the crunch of the paper towels on his eyes. It has moved beyond silent in the room.

“I would be afraid to risk further injury,” the paramedic says, and Robles reaches down for his crutches.

There’s a click-clack-click-clack as he heads away from the bar, and Team Robles disappears behind a small curtained-off area 20 feet away. Most of the room is staring at the black scoreboard with the bright red numbers “2,721” on it, Robles’ count at the time of the injury.

Off to the side, out of sight for most of the room, the paramedic stands and walks away from the pullup area. He finds a spot right beside the mounds of wraps and sandwiches, and he leans against the wall. If everybody else in the room wasn’t dabbing at their eyes, they’d have seen the paramedic quietly start crying, too.

Laura Robles comforts Anthony as he decides whether to stop the challenge. The former wrestling champ attempted one more set before calling it off. Caitlin O’Hara for ESPN

ALMOST 40 MINUTES LATER, Robles crutches out to stand in front of the Guinness cameras, alongside host Amanda Marcus and the Desert Financial executive VP, Cathy Graham. Marcus announces that Robles had injured his biceps, then turns it over to him.

He references one of his favorite quotes, from Bruce Lee: “Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts, it is glorious even to fail.” He thanks everybody who came out and says he felt great coming out of his break before something popped in his biceps.

Robles breathes in a bunch of air, maybe more than he ever did during the pullup record attempt, and he starts to cry. “It sucks,” he says. “I want you to know I gave it my best today, whether I was going to break the record or not. I was going to go to the very end. I’m bummed that I didn’t get the chance to do that. But it was still my best.”

Graham speaks next and warns the crowd she’s probably going to fall apart. All day, credit union employees had talked about Robles, recently hired as a Desert Financial spokesperson, like he was a family member. For anybody with an ounce of cynicism in them, contemplating the bond between bankers and their athlete spokesperson probably sounds hilarious. But by the end of the day, it’s clear that Robles has that special ability to unite credit union workers, paramedics, 12-year-olds and anybody in between.

Graham tries to read Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena,” but she crumbles a few times just as she predicted. By the end, the whole room is a mess.

But it’s a happy mess. This had been a glorious failure. The entire crowd of 50 or so onlookers stands and claps.

Robles makes the rounds in the room, thanking people for coming out to support him. He repeatedly says some version of, “I’m going to get this checked out, then we’ll see what to do next.” In the parking lot afterward, Robles climbs into the passenger seat of his car as his team packs everything up.

At 7:58 p.m., exactly 12 hours after arriving, Anthony Robles heads for the emergency room.

Robles wipes away tears after ending his attempt. He’s vowed, with his wife Laura’s blessing, that he’ll be back once he’s fully healed. Caitlin O’Hara for ESPN

A FEW WEEKS BEFORE HIS ATTEMPT, Robles is on a Zoom call describing how this would be his last athletic challenge. “I’ve done everything I could have hoped for,” he says. “I have nothing left to prove.”

He’s in his first year coaching wrestling at Mesa High, and Laura has a growing real estate agent portfolio. Robles isn’t a certified contractor, but he likes to chip in on some of the dirty work of the fixer-upper side of her business.

“I promised Laura that this would be it,” he says in early May, and then he stops.

He looks away from his camera but the tears start rolling. He talks about Laura’s pregnancy, and how he wants to be the kind of father he never had.

“I’m at a point now where I’m about to become a dad,” he says. “I’m the head coach of a high school program that has a special place in my heart. Those are my next challenges. How can I be the best dad possible? How can I be the best coach possible? How can I impact these kids for the rest of their lives? That’s going to be my life.”

In the emergency room, a few weeks after that Zoom, Robles is told that he tore a biceps tendon, but not the biceps itself. The doctor says if he hadn’t listened to the paramedic, Robles might have never been able to do a pullup again.

That’s what makes Tucker’s record so daunting. His total, 7,715, is so absurd that it makes you wonder what the actual maximum human capacity would be. Tucker himself thinks if absolutely everything broke right, a human being could do as many as 10,000 pullups. In the run-up to his attempt, Robles frequently mentioned he thought he could get to 9,000. “Anthony could have done 8,000-10,000,” Hicks says. “He knows it, and I know it.”

And that’s why this story has a plot twist that you probably smelled 15 minutes ago. On a call in early June, the week after his ER trip, Robles says he’s very much looking forward to having kids and coaching Mesa High and demo-ing some walls for Laura … but he’s full-speed ahead on another run at the pullup record as soon as his biceps feel better.

Behind the curtain on the night of his attempt, he was crying with his head down, on Laura’s shoulder, when he heard her say, “I know how much this means to you. If you want to go for it again, let’s go.”

And so he will run it back, probably by the end of 2022. He might have some competition, though. Robles’ attempt drew even more attention to the record, and both he and Tucker have been hearing from other fitness-heads who say they’re coming for whatever the record is.

Supporters congratulate Robles after he stopped his attempt. With his wife Laura’s blessing, he’s vowed that he’ll return once he’s fully healed. Caitlin O’Hara for ESPN

In Georgia, Tucker had thought Robles would beat his 24-hour record, so he’d started plotting out a plan to chase down Robles’ record for pullups with an 80-pound weight on his back. Now he’s not so sure what he will go after next — but it will be something, and he admits he might just find himself sucked back into the 24-hour pullup record that David Goggins introduced to the world.

“But it’s not about the records for people like Anthony and I,” he says. “I hope he breaks it because I will always know what I did, the price that I paid to set the record, and that someone else paid that price, too.”

Robles swears that this time will be his last try, that he can live with not breaking the record as long as it’s not an injury that derails him. But he also sounds like a man who truly believes he’s going to walk off soon with the world pullup record.

“I’m ready to uncoil one last time,” he says.