The Godfather of Push-ups

Copyright Charles Linster (500 W. Belmont Ave. Apt. 5-C Chicago, IL 60657 USA,

My disability was responsible for my living a different kind of life. However, my setting the world push-up record has also made an impact on my life.

First of all, I spent almost three years no quite sure that I was the world champion. In 1968, I found my name in the American edition of the Guinness Book of World Records confirming it. Unfortunately, in the one sentence I was in, four errors were made. My name was spelled Lunster instead of Linster, It listed the date as October 7, 1965, not October 5 when it happened. It said I was from Chicago, not my home town of Wilmette. Finally, it said that my record took over four hours to perform when it took three hours and  54 minutes. All four errors were corrected by 1970.  

In 1968, Jim Benagh wrote Incredible Athletic Feats. It was published a year later. A brief but complete summary of my record breaking feat was written on Page 74 of that book while a drawing of me performing it is on the following page. Tears came to my eyes when I read the acknowledgement page to the book. In it, Mr. Benagh specifically mentioned ten athletes including me. Three names were instantly recognizable. I had read of two of them, Paul Anderson and Joaquin Capilla, seven years before and wondered if I'd ever accomplish any thing that would put my name in print. Not only had I but my name was now in print next to theirs. The third name needed no introduction. It was an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence with Jesse Owens.     

If imitation is the purest form of flattery, Mr. Benagh's story about me was eulogized. It was copied word for word in 1976 by Kevin McFarlin on Page 134 of his book Incredible But True!

Eight years later, Takeshi Naruse did the same thing in his book News to Amuse You. It was brought to my attention by Renee, a former member of our staff, who left to teach English to students in Japan. Lesson Twenty-three of his book is entitled "6,006 Consecutive Push-ups Without a Pause." Renee wrote and said that she felt very proud to tell her class that she had the opportunity to work with me and that I was a nice person.  

In May, 1970, people from Mendelson Films of Los Angeles interviewed me for a Guinness TV special. When the show aired on NBC 11 months later, I didn't make the final cut but did receive a check for $100.

During Winter Break, 1972, William Crawford of the Chicago Tribune interviewed me for a story. It appeared in the January 18, 1973 edition of that newspaper under the banner "Former pushup champ fighting back from fall." Staff from the President's Council for Physical Fitness and Sports saw it and wrote asking for my address so that a letter from the White House could be sent. In a letter dated June 14, 1973, I received a congratulatory letter on my graduation from the University of Illinois on White House stationary. The kudos came from the President and Captain James Lovell (U.S. Navy Ret.), Chairman of the Council and a former astronaut. Captain Lovell signed the letter.   

That same year, I received a letter from Al Hershey, a reading specialist at the Lower Dauphin High School in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania. He read of my achievement and wrote to thank me for accomplishing something that he used to inspire his students. Enclosed in his letter were six more letters. They were written by his students and each one told me how I had inspired them.

A few months later, I received a letter from the National Inquirer. For $100, it proposed to write my story under my byline and publish it. Unsure of the results, I told them to proceed but reserved the right of final approval. I was displeased with the final draft and didn't approve it. I didn't need $100 that bad.

The following year, Craig brought an article in the National Inquirer to my attention. It reported that a young college student man named Ray Chase from Middletown, Connecticut performed 7,006 push-ups. However, Guinness didn't ratify it because he didn't fully extend his arms. I felt relieved that Guinness had high standards like my own when it came to ratification of push-up records.

A year after that, Triviata: A Compendium of Useless Knowledge by Timothy Fullerton was published. In it, it stated that I had set a record that would be tough to beat. Mr. Fulerton was wrong. In early 1976, I learned that my record was broken. I wrote to Guinness asking for confirmation. It forwarded my letter to Robert Knecht, a 13 year-old professional acrobat. He answered my letter by stating that he had trained for eight years to perform 7,026 consecutive push-ups. "My hat is off to you," he wrote, "Your record was tough to beat." Two years later, I met The Balancing Knechts, John, Arlene, Robert and Richard at the Orland Square Shopping Center. I saw two of their shows and, as a former gymnast, was amazed at their performance. After meeting Robert, personally congratulating him and comparing and contrasting our training methods, I felt lucky that it was he who broke my record. He had adhered to the highest standard and had done so with modesty and grace. Besides, record breaking was a Knecht tradition. His little brother Richard held the world sit-up record.  

Robert's record did not last long. Seventeen months later, Henry Marshall of San Antonio, Texas performed 7,650 consecutive push- ups and was listed in the Guinness Book.

Several authors were unaware of this fact.  In 1977, Fred Worth stated that I set a record at Page 375 in his Complete Unabridged Super Trivia Encyclopedia at Page 375. The following year, George Sullivan credited me with the world record at Page 178 of his book Amazing Sports Facts. In 1979, James Meyers did the same in his Mammoth Book of Trivia. A year later in More About My Magnificent Machine: Fifty-two Unusual Devotions for Families, William Coleman, listed my accomplishment. Mine was Devotional number Forty-five, "Muscles Are Amazing."  

Henry's record didn't last very long either. Guinness credited the following men with setting the world push-up record:

Tommy Gildert, 9,105 push-ups on July 1, 1979,
Colin Hewick, 10,029 push-ups on July 18, 1982,
Tommy Gildert, 24,044 push-ups in 24 hours on March 29-30, 1985,  
Paul Lynch, 25,753 push-ups on July 18, 1985,
Jack Atherton, 29,601 pushups in 24 hours on July 11-12, 1986,  
Jeffery Warwick, 32,251 push-ups on June 16, 1987,
Paul Lynch 32,573 push-ups in 24 hours on 12-13 September, 1987,
Paddy Doyle 37,350 push-ups in 24 hours on May 1-2, 1989,
Charles Servizio 43,360 push-ups in 24 hours on January 18-19, 1992,
Junber Lezhava, 44,141 push-ups in 24 hours, 1992 and
Charles Servizio, 46,001 push-ups in 24 hours on April 24-5, 1993.
What Guinness did not state was that from Gildert to Servizio, it listed records that were set with the aid of rest breaks. The standard it now listed was the most push-ups performed in 24 hours leaving it up to the athlete how many rest breaks to take and how long the breaks would be.

When seeing this change, I wrote to Guinness and asked why it changed its push-up standard. I was told that it felt that the most consecutive number of push-ups lacked credulity and the most in 24 hours was a fairer standard. This didn't make sense to me so I began a two year campaign to restore the consecutive standard. My task was compounded by the fact that there is no official national or international definition for the push-up. I read, researched, called and wrote on the matter thoroughly.

The biggest splash I made in my campaign was when I spoke to Fred Klein, the sports editor of the Wall Street Journal. He heard me out and wrote a very supportive column that appeared in the newspaper on September 18, 1987.  Entitled "A Sport to Call His Own," it didn't sway Guinness but I can honestly say that I was quoted in the Wall Street Journal.

My masterpiece was an eight page letter to the Sports Editor of Guinness. After quoting numerous definitions defining the push-up as a non-stop exercise, I enclosed the written statements from six professors of physical education and/or kinesiology siding with me. In the face of all my proof, the Guinness Sports Editor made the following statement, "A push-up is a push-up and I don't see any particular reason why it should be 'non-stop.'"

In 1990, a friend sent me Card 281 from Trivial Pursuit's The 1960's Edition. One of the questions states, "What did Charles Linster push himself to do 6,006 of in under four hours in 1965?"  One of the answers is, "Push-ups." The card has other questions and answers that begs another question, "What do I have in common with Pete Rose, Roy Orbison and Ralph Nader?" The answer is, "We're all on the same Trivial Pursuit card."  

In 1992, I wrote "The Ulysses Factor," a 6,200 word article that explained how I set the world push up record but more importantly how  the experience had prepared me to rehabilitate myself to complete independence after my devastating accident. During the next two years, I sought constructive criticism of it, revising and distilling it until it became "Ulysses' Yield," a 2,800 word improvement. For several years thereafter, I submitted it two dozen magazines, none of whom published it.

In 1999, I discovered the website of Rekord-Klub Saxonia, a Leipzig, Germany based club who's only requirement for membership is to hold or have held a world record. I joined and posted "Ulysses' Yield" on the club's website. On the front page of the article is the record history of non-stop push-ups. It begins with my 6,006 because I was the first such champion in the Guinness Book It also includes Robert Knecht and Henry Marshall because their totals were accomplished non-stop. It excludes those mentioned in Guinness who achieved their "records" with the aid of rest breaks. Last on the list is Minoru Yoshida the current world record holder who performed 10,507 non-stop push-ups in 1980. When I look at the record history, I feel like a king who has a list of his legitimate successors.

The essence of "Ulysses' Yield" is contained in the following paragraphs:

"During my rehabilitation, I harkened back to by quest for the push-up record when the going got rough. Knowing that I was capable of achieving what other people considered impossible, I did all that was asked of me and more. I lived in a world of three colors. Black represented the things I couldn't do, white the activities I could. Between those two tones were many shades of gray. I concentrated on this tint and through trial and error discovered what was truly light and dark. While doing so, I brightened my world to an extent that surprised my doctors, nurses, therapists and me.

I told…[my daughter] of a book I had read several years earlier, The Ulysses Factor by J.L.R. Anderson. It was the author's premise that, 'There is some factor in man, some form of special adaptation which prompts a few individuals to exploits which, however purposeless that they may seem, are of value to the survival of the race.'"

But in the greater scheme of things, it doesn't really matter who can do the most push-ups. What is important is what I derived from the quest. I discovered and cultivated the virtues of discipline, sacrifice, and perseverance within me while pursuing a dream. Shortly after achieving that dream, I found myself engulfed in a nightmare. But the survival component of the Ulysses factor, that leads people to safety in times of trouble, came to my rescue. Had I known in advance that I was going to break my neck; I couldn't have prepared myself better for the demanding task of rehabilitation than to train for the world push-up record. I strove, sought and found, but unlike Tennyson's Ulysses, my quest yielded me the fortitude I needed to rehabilitate myself to complete independence.

Since I put my E-mail address on it, I've received responses to it from individuals across the country and around the world. Over 40 of them wanted to know how to do more push-ups and I had given them all advice. Over 30 others have told me how much my article has inspired them. The most moving communication stated:

"You're an inspiration to life itself. I found your personal story uplifting as you defined life as "a struggle" not a triumph. I too hope to look back and hope that I "struggled" well. I think you're right though, it is this struggle that gives the triumph perspective, the countless hours of training that go to make the difference (in some cases for a fraction of a fraction of a second can be summed up in the "struggle.") It is this innate drive to improve no matter the odds that ultimately will make or break the human race. But it is your indomitable spirit that will eventually lead us back into the light."

During the millennium year, Christine Boulch, the  teacher of a junior high English class in France, used my article when they studied the superlative structures of English.  Since my E-mail address was on it, some of her students sent me message to which I responded. They showed her my responses and she asked me for a favor. To give her students a practical exercise, could all 21 of them write me in English and could I responded to them in English? To further the cause of education and Franco-American Relations, I agreed.

In 2005, I received an E-mail message from Claudia Bessel of Agentur Riese-Burghhart, an international artists agency in Düsseldorf, Germany. She wanted to know if I be interested in performing an outstanding and spectacular act in Paris on July 24-5 of that year and suggested fingertip push-ups. While I was flattered with her question, I had to decline.

Later that year, a Columbia College student E-mailed me. She was writing an article for the student magazine about Illinoisans in The Guinness Book of World Records. While Ulysses' Yield had given her the nucleus for a portion of the article, she wanted to "flesh it out" with an interview. I consented. The result was my name and achievement in print again in "Step Right Up," an article in the Winter /Spring 2006 edition of Echo, the Student Magazine of Columbia College.

The Internet gave my push-up accomplishment a second wind. From time to time, I'll put my name into a search engine and find more websites that list my old record. After 50, I stopped counting. It also has universality to it. For some reason, I'm a big hit in Turkey. Over 30 websites mention me in Turkish. I've also found four my name and accomplishment in German websites, three in Hungarian and one each in French, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish.

My favorite push-up story occurred in the summer of 1987. I received a telephone call from a fellow Toastmaster asking me if I had held the world push-up record. When I said yes, he said that he had just heard it on the radio. A local DJ had asked the question, "What happened at New Trier High School on October 5, 1965?" My friend Seymour who was listening to that station thought I'd know the answer. A woman called in and said that I had set the world push-up record. The DJ then asked the woman if she knew what had happened to me. She said that I was killed in a car crash. I called that DJ and like Mark Twain told him that the rumors of my death had been greatly exaggerated. Seymour summed the whole thing up when he thought, "Chick not only knew the answer, he was the answer."

Being a former world champion is something that I'll always cherish. I'm one of the few who objectively knows that I've done something better than it's ever been done before. I know that a world record holder never fully appreciates his accomplishment until someone else has broken it. In one sense, the record was never really mine. I was merely the custodian of it. I picked up the torch, moved it forward and surrendered it to someone who could move it even further. Some of my most intimate relationships are with those who have held or are holders of world records because we are all cut from the same cloth. When I hear "We Are the Champions" by Queen and Nobody Does It Better" by Carly Simon, they become, "I Was the Champion" and "Nobody Did It Better."    

Why doesn't Minoru Yoshita receive more recognition for his world push-up record? I don't know but I'd like to have a photograph of the two of us together. It could even be captioned by my saying to him, "You're the man!" I haven't done a push-up since 1965 and my world record was broken in 1976, However, I think it's safe to say that I'm the Godfather of push-ups.

Ulysses' Yield by Charles Linster
Push-Up World Records,
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