The Push-up Challenge

It was a great moment for Cameron. He completed ten “man’s” push-ups.

Cameron had come to rowing from soccer. He was a good athlete. He could run most of us into the ground as we ran our after-rowing laps. But rowing takes a great deal of upper body strength for which soccer had not prepared him. The ten push-ups we all did at the end of practice were hard for him. We were all learning new things, stretching new boundaries in our lives mentally as well as physically. Cameron’s boundary was push-ups. We accepted that he could push up from the knee for now. We knew he would graduate to full body when he was ready.

That day came, more than half way through the season. Cameron’s smile glowed when he told me that this was the first time in his life he had managed full push-ups. The crew cheered for him with great enthusiasm. Another personal victory.

I took Cameron’s personal victory to a friend’s home that evening. Over a glass of wine I retold the tale, still warm in my heart, of Cameron’s beaming smile, of Alex’s determination at running the mile, of Mariah’s focus in pulling a perfectly even stroke oar. I had chosen the right friend. Lance is a veteran instructor of Outward Bound. He understood the personal victories of experiential education to the core. As I left his home he reached in his wallet and gave me a ten dollar bill. “That’s for Cameron’s push-ups”, he said. “When he’s up to twenty I’ll give you $20.”

It was a perfect challenge. My mind moved fast. This money, best served, would not go into the general coffers of our tiny non-profit, however needy were those coffers. It needed to benefit the entire crew. Pizza to celebrate the end of the season. Pizza and soda, exciting because we had all sworn off soda as a part of our training.

I presented the challenge to the entire crew on the water the next day. Their enthusiasm was readily apparent. Pizza! Soda! Then the reality set in. Cameron would have to double his push-up ability, and we only had two weeks. Someone suggested that we would have to give Cameron extra push-ups to train him. A wail went up from the number three oar. Cameron was not excited about working twice as hard as everyone else. Nobody blamed him.

Then Alex spoke up. “I’ll do push-ups with Cameron.” Alex wasn’t the best athlete in the crew, but you’d go a long way before you’d find a better teammate. Inspired by his leadership the rest of the crew deemed it only fair that we as a crew needed to beef up our training. There were two weeks left til our final race in Hull. That’s ten training days. One additional push-up a day.

Of course we made it. It was a manageable goal set within a reasonable time frame to answer a challenge offered by a friend who knew exactly what he was challenging. We all grew. Our bodies strengthened to the task. Our sense of team strengthened as we worked together towards a common goal that was certainly ancillary to winning a race but was in its own way more important. Pizza!

This was experiential education at its finest, thinly disguised as a sport. This was a challenge given by a man who understood how unimportant winning a race was compared to personal development and team spirit. In so many ways that pizza symbolized everything we were out there for. It was so good.

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