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WATCH NOW: Dahlgren sailor breaks record for swimming while handcuffed
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WATCH NOW: Dahlgren sailor breaks record for swimming while handcuffed

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Sailor Ben Katzman was handcuffed on Saturday for breaking and entering.

For almost four hours straight, he broke through the water at the King George YMCA Pool on his way to unofficially entering his name into the Guinness World Records for swimming the longest distance while handcuffed.

The Navy corpsman blew the existing record, of 3.4 miles, out of the water as he covered the length of the pool 344 times for a total of 5.35 miles. He has to send photos, the complete video and logbooks detailing his time to Guinness for official certification, but the event still marked the longest and farthest time he’s ever swum, with or without a metal ring around his wrists.

“This crushed a lot of personal records,” said Katzman, 32, who was motivated by adrenalin during the swim, then realized how stiff, sore and hungry he was when finished. “Other than that, I feel great. I’m ecstatic right now and so hyper.”

Katzman has been swimming since he was 3 and is considered a fish by his family, said his father, Joseph. He and Ben’s mother, Terry, just happened to be visiting from Idaho, and the elder Katzman was thrilled to be poolside for his son’s latest adventure.

“Ben’s always been one to try the extraordinary challenges,” his dad said, “I guess all the swimming lessons I gave him as a kid growing up have finally paid off. I’m just so happy and praise God I can be here to witness it.”

Katzman has a running bucket list, or “apocalist,” as he calls it, of things he’d like to accomplish before he dies or the apocalypse occurs, whichever comes first. Having his name on a world record is among them, so he started looking at Guinness swimming records to see what might be within reach.

When he came across the entry about swimming in handcuffs, he thought it sounded doable.

The first time he locked in on the technique, the handcuffs rubbed his wrists raw. But as he’s perfected what he calls a double-arm pull and a modified sidestroke, he’s toughened up all over.

As he trained, with quick swims and long-distance stretches, running and calisthenics, his focus was on distance, not speed. His only time constraint—other than what his body could endure—was that Guinness won’t allow volunteer observers and timekeepers to work more than four hours in a shift.

With the handcuffs in place, Katzman’s hands were clasped together in almost prayer-like fashion on Saturday as he made his way down Lane 5. He started the stroke with a scissor kick, then glided into a dolphin kick. When he slowed, he extended his arms in front of him, cutting through the water as he brought his face up for a breath, then brought the arms down, did the scissor kick, glided into the dolphin kick and so on.

Alexandra Bentz, the aquatics director at the pool, said he “looked like a frog on his side with handcuffs. It was very cool.”

Then, she added that the technique “definitely looked uncomfortable to me,” but Katzman had demonstrated his confidence and abilities since the fall, when he first came to the YMCA to practice. Although he’s an active-duty sailor, the event had nothing to do with the Navy.

Katzman had tried scheduling the world-record run at the Navy base in Dahlgren, where he lives with his wife, Jaclyn, and their 16-month-old son, Lincoln. But one thing after another, starting with the pandemic, postponed the event three different times.

When Katzman asked YMCA officials if he could attempt to set his record there, Bentz and her team of lifeguards were more than willing to accommodate him, he said.

She admitted the staff was a little nervous when they heard that he’d get into the water with his hands bound. They wondered: How would he get out of the pool? What would happen if he had an emergency while handcuffed?

They soon saw that he “is very fit, and that his confidence is contagious,” Bentz said.

Anyone he asked to help, including videographer Cathy Binder, who’s also on the King George Board of Supervisors, seemed thrilled to help. Recording him going the length of the pool 344 times wasn’t exactly action-packed, she said, but “it did have its moments.”

His father knelt, poolside, to tell him when he’d broken the existing record. When Katzman hit 4 miles, he gave a little shout, and when the official observers held up their hands, noting he’d gone 5 miles, he whooped even louder.

Others at the YMCA stopped to ask Binder what was going on and wanted regular updates.

“A dad and his son stayed to watch and stated it wasn’t every day you get to see a world record broken,” Binder said. “I was honored to be a witness.”

Naval Support Activity South Potomac planned to write a story about Katzman’s achievement, and Andrew Revelos, deputy public affairs officer, said watching him was surreal.

“He was in that mental and physical zone that define endurance athletes and elite military teams,” Revelos said. “He’s an inspiration for us at NSF Dahlgren and across the Navy.”

Immediately after he set the record, Katzman chugged a sports beverage as he described the typical back cramps he gets, about mile 3, and how he pushed through them as he closed in on 4 miles, then 5.

“I was stoked at 5, that’s why I was like, ‘Oh, I gotta go a bit more,’ ” he said. “It’s like that saying that anything worth doing is worth overdoing, so I was living the moment.”

By the next day, he didn’t seem any worse for wear. While his parents were in town, he and his family went out to brunch, had photos done, and he “hauled our 27-pound son around,” his wife said. “You’d never guess he slammed 5.3 miles in a pool yesterday and while handcuffed, nonetheless.”

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

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