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I hate pushups.

They are boring with their simple repetitive down and up motion. They are frustrating as your curled toes start to slide on the floor. They bring back bad memories of evil gym teachers past; I can still hear the hollow thud of my classmate Bobby’s face smacking off the gym floor as his arms failed.

They cause pain to shoot up the backs of your arms and your tightened tummy to spasm. They certainly are not flattering what with all the sweaty bums up in the air like disfigured capital “A’s”. On more than one occasion they have caused extreme embarrassment as the abnormal contortions cause the built-up flatulence to go shooting past clenched cheeks escaping for all to hear.

And for what? Nobody really ends up looking like Arnold because they did nothing but pushups, right? Sure, they tighten and tone one or two basic muscle groups, but that’s not enough to land you on the front of the gym membership brochure. I haven’t met anyone who honestly gets excited about whipping out the next set of them.

I hate pushups.

So far this year, I have done over 25,475 of them.

At the end of 2017 I saw an online challenge by Jim Moss and Dan Kerrigan from Firefighterfunctionalfitness.com to set a goal of doing 100 pushups per day for all 365 days in 2018. They caught me in that perfect time of self-loathing, misery, and glucose build up (otherwise known as the week between Christmas and New Year’s when all the holiday candy is turning to sludge in your veins) and thus had my attention. They didn’t know it but my recent reading material had been largely focused on setting goals, having a vision, being a leader and so on. This is the perfect way to apply the S.M.A.R.T. goal lessons I’d been learning about I thought.

100 pushups a day for a year. 100 is not a huge number, easily divisible by 4 rounds of 25 each. I’m still a fit firefighter, right? I mean I jog occasionally so pushups shouldn’t be any real challenge. As if those two have much in common with each other.

My first night I did 25.

Total.

It only took me 2 sets of 10 and 1 set of 5 to achieve that number! 25. Great start to the new year!

Not to be deterred, I dutifully dropped to my sore hands the next night and banged out that night’s number and made up some from the first night. I made it to 50 (over the course of 40 minutes) before one of my triceps literally looked at me and threatened to cut me if I didn’t stop this nonsense right now! I didn’t argue, I just apologized to my nose for the way I had just bounced it off the floor much like Bobby’s nose did back then.

Strange thing though. By the end of the first week of January I had done 700 pushups. Sure I had to play catch up for that first couple of nights, but by the end of the week I could hit my goal of 100 and do it in under 15 minutes!

I involved others in my goal and vision to gain their support and encouragement just like the self-improvement gurus suggest. By now my wife had gotten used to my sweat puddles on the floor of the living room anyway. My daughters were perfecting their firehouse wisecrack abilities to compare my body movements and facial expressions with various dying animals and train wrecks. I must admit that I am proud of them both for the content and speed of delivering the one-liners. Yes, it’s extremely hard to do pushups while laughing and clenching cheeks simultaneously.

It didn’t take long to get to the point of being able to whip out 100 pushups without sounding like the frequent flyer you are always giving a breathing treatment to. My arms stopped talking back to me and started supporting my weight. One of the 20-something-year-old cadets called me out on my claims in fire school. I dropped and banged out 100 straight in the classroom in under a minute, 46% more than he was able to muster.

Now, at a pace of 100 per night, I should have 21,000 and I’m 4,000 plus over that. April 1st I decided to push myself a bit and do 125 per night. I figured I would do that for the next three months and bump up again. Unfortunately, June 1st I thought it was time to bump up again and so I went to 150. Doh! A month too soon, and I can’t go back now. So an extra month at 150 per night until October when I will go to 175. On some nights I push myself and do an extra 5 or 15, but hey, what’s a few more when you already hate it, right? Some nights I do the whole amount straight. Other nights my nose itches part way through so I have to stop, but I’m always hitting the required number now.

Since my abject failure those first few nights I have only missed 4 other nights. 2 nights due to a wrist injury and 2 nights due to a good case of the flu. The only thing I was pushing up was more fluid! I was weaker than a newborn kitten. I’m proud to say, though, that each one missed got made up another night.

The point of all this is not about achieving goals or getting fit, though both those things are being accomplished. For me, it’s about setting a small example for my daughters. There are things in life that we choose to do, and conversely, things that we don’t like to do. Hopefully, by choosing an activity I’m not fond of and persevering at it I am teaching them to overcome their fears, dislikes, and uncomfortable circumstances. I want them to see that setting goals for something you enjoy is good, but setting a goal to overcome something more disagreeable might actually be even better. I want them to grow up believing that in spite of life’s challenges, whether they are chosen or forced on them, they can achieve big things by engaging in simple, repetitive habits that often lead to greater things.

I still hate pushups, but after 25,000 or so I’ve come to embrace them I think.

Thanks, Jim and Dan.

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