The Record-Setting Life of Mike McCastle
Over the past few years, McCastle has completed 5,804 pull-ups in a single day, pulled a 5,000-pound truck across the Mojave Desert, and climbed a rope the equivalent height of Mount Everest. How on earth has this Navy SEAL dropout accomplished some of the craziest physical feats in recent memory?
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Bethel, Alaska, in January is a bleak and frigid place. A half-hour seaplane hop from the Bering Sea, a flat expanse of snow and scattered weather-beaten buildings sits below a blue-gray sky. In a small house on the edge of town, a burly tattooed man in his underwear is getting ready to be buried in ice.
Michael McCastle, 34, sits in a wooden chair in the corner where the kitchen meets the living room. His seat is surrounded by a frame of PVC pipes, with four walls made of clear plastic wrap. Two fit guys with shaved heads are tearing open bags of ice and emptying them inside the frame.
McCastle disappears from the feet up. His breathing slows and deepens when the ice reaches his arms, which are crossed on his chest over a heart-rate strap. McCastle stands six foot two and weighs 225 pounds; 60 bags aren’t quite enough to reach his shoulders, so the men bring in buckets of snow from outside to finish the job. A recording of a crackling fire plays over a speaker.
It’s hard to imagine a more low-key, DIY setup for an attempt at a potentially lethal world record. No spectators, no paramedics, no TV cameras. Just a few buddies trained in CPR and a piece of paper with emergency instructions that McCastle wrote for his friends, with details like: “Core temp 82.4 F—Severe heart rhythm disturbances are likely and breathing may stop at any time. I’m likely dead here. Throw some shades on me—Weekend at Bernie’s.”
McCastle works as a personal trainer and mental-strength coach for Paralympians, elite rugby players, and adventurer Colin O’Brady. He has been building toward this attempt for eight years. At 1:17 P.M., he starts streaming on Instagram Live. In a halting voice, he explains that he’s trying to break the record for the longest immersion in ice, which currently stands at two hours and 34 minutes. The larger goal is to raise funds for the Brian Grant Foundation, which works on behalf of people with Parkinson’s disease—people like McCastle’s father, Raymond, who died from complications of the illness in 2014.
“One of the symptoms that he experienced was rigidity, the feeling of being frozen,” McCastle says into the camera of his phone, pausing every few words like he’s out of breath. “I can remove myself from this ice at any time, but people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease don’t have that luxury.”
The timer starts. Two hours and 35 minutes to go.