"I believed sports were a waste of time," he says.
He was much more excited by intellectual rigor than athletics. But his intellectual curiosity included an obsession with the Guinness Book of World Records.
"As a kid, I was always a fan of the Guinness book," he says. "I mean, I might say a fanatic. I used to carry that book around like my Bible. There was something about it that just appealed to me. I don't know what it was."
In his 20's, he got into meditation, became a follower of the guru Sri Chimnoy, shed his birth name Keith and took the name Ashrita ("Ashrita means 'protected by God," he explains). Chimnoy convinced him that the body required nourished and challenged just as much as the mind.
When he heard about a 450-mile24-hour bicycling event, he entered it without doing any training. He says he finished third by applying the mental determination and concentration he had learned from meditating.
"I realized at that moment that using meditation, I could break a Guinness record," Furman says. "But I decided to break a record to tell people about meditation, not to get my name in the book. My philosophy is this; other human beings have broken those records. I'm a human being. I know how to meditate: why can't I break that record?"
He then embarked on his remarkable mission to break as many records as he could. He decides which one to tackle next by cracking open the Guinness book (or website these days) and seeing what looks interesting or which of his old records has since been broken.
"I'm addicted," he says. "I get this tremendous fulfillment. The process. The training. Overcoming the obstacle. Finding creative ways around a problem."
Furman does have a day job. He manages a health food store in Queens and slips in his world record breaking when he isn't working. He gets paid nothing for setting a new record. He has no sponsors. And while he concedes this off-beat avocation is an obsession, he makes no apologies for it.
"You're in the moment," he said of the feeling in the midst of trying to set a new record. "Nothing else exists except for you and whatever you're doing and I love that experience. It's what I live for basically."
In Ottawa, Canada, a few days after we spoke, Furman set the new record for running on cans. A week later, he was on his way to Bali for a meditation retreat. While there, he says he will attempt to set at least three new records: for skip-jumping without a rope, most forward rolls in one minute and farthest distance bouncing a golf ball on a golf club.