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Mr. Push Ups

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Tony Ward, who was known as Elmo Ward during his formative years in Lebanon, shows his style with the push-up bars. In 1997, the former Lebanon High School and Cumberland Junior College athlete set the world record for performing most push-ups on push-up bars, a total of 31,600 in 20 hours, as credited by the Record Holders Republic Registry of Official World Records. Submitted
A basketball skills coach and motivational speaker, Tony Ward lives in Thornton, Colorado. He recently wrote a 48-page autobiography, "Mr. Push-Ups Reality 31,600." Submitted
Tony Ward, top right, poses with the Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic School basketball team, composed of fifth- and sixth-graders that he coached last season in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. Submitted

World record holder Tony Ward shares his tale

In a life filled with ups and downs, Tony Ward set a bar for himself that appeared to be way over his head.

With an indefatigable spirit and amazing physical stamina, the former Lebanon High School and Cumberland Junior College athlete (then known as Elmo Ward), dreamed of getting his name into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Back in 1996 he decided to tackle the record for most push-ups. Little did Ward realize that he would be challenging a former British paratrooper, who holds or has held 55 Guinness records for endurance sports, plus another 149 records approved by other bodies.

Nevertheless, on June 12, 1997, over a span of 20 hours, Ward performed 31,600 push-ups. While he fell short of Paddy Doyle's record by nearly 6,000, he did earn his place in the Record Holders Republic Registry of Official World Records, as he accomplished his feat using five-inch push-up bars.

Ward, 57, recently published a 48-page book, "Mr. Push-Ups Reality 31,600," in which he shares bits and pieces from his life as he tells of his early days in the Cedar City, his years as a homeless man and his dependence on drugs, how he cleaned up his act and how he pursued his world record. The book is available for purchase online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords web sites at a price of $7.99 for the paperback and $2.99 for the Kindle edition.

World Record Holders

To check out a list of amazing feats, go online to www.recordholdersrepublic.co.uk.

Ward remarked that one of the reasons he wrote the book was to share his life motto with young people, which is "to always believe in yourself, and that anything is possible, and never give up on your dream, because it can become reality."

Today, the 5-foot-8-inch, 200-pound athlete and his wife Victoria reside in Thornton, Colorado, where he makes his living as a basketball skills coach and motivational speaker. He is the father of two sons and a daughter.

The birth of the goal

He was living in Worcester, Massachussetts, when he caught a show on television showing people performing challenges that put them in Guinness world records.

"I was watching TV, and I seen this guy from England, Paddy Doyle, set the world record for push-ups, and I thought, 'Wow! I believe I could do that. I should go for that because I have a lot of stamina and endurance, and I always dreamed of making a world record.' I believed I could break it," said Ward.

"So I went to Wal-Mart and bought me some push-up bars and started training. I trained for a year and did maybe 80,000 push-ups."

About a year later, on June 12, 1997, at the Greendale Family Branch YMCA in Worcester, he made his attempt.

"When I first started off I felt like the king of the world. I did 1,800 straight push-ups. When I got to about the eighth hour, I was beginning to feel a little fatigued, but I kept pushing and the people kept clapping for me," he recalled.

"At the 14th hour, they told me, 'You've got a chance. Keep going.' I got to the 18th hour and had about 27,000. I kept pushing and when I got to about the 19th hour I was at about 29,000 and something. Then I got down to the 20th hour, and man, I'm almost at the point of physical exhaustion. I knocked out a last 80 and that was it. It was probably the most physically-grueling athletic event I had ever participated in," said Ward, who has run three 26-mile marathons.

Falling short of Doyle's 37,350 push-ups, Ward applied to Guinness for most push-ups using push-up bars, but they told him that was too specialized a category and turned him down. He later contacted, Doyle, nicknamed "the world's fittest man," who recommended that Ward report his achievement to the Record Holders Republic Registry of Official World Records, and the organization accepted it.

Athletic upbringing

Living a topsy-turvy lifestyle over the decades, Ward has worked on docks, been a painter, a juvenile counselor and YMCA personal trainer while hanging his hat in such cities as Orlando, New York, Houston, Phoenix, Little Rock and Los Angeles.

But his early years were spent in a close-knit family that he compares to TV's "The Waltons." He was the fourth child of 14 born to Pattie (Russell) and Louis "Zeak" Ward, who raised their family in a five-bedroom house on South Greenwood in Lebanon.

Mr. Ward operated a backhoe for 58 years, much of that time for the City of Lebanon and later for several local construction companies, and he also played as a star second baseman for the Lebanon Clowns in the Negro League baseball.

Elmo, who gained his nickname of Tony (after Tony the Tiger of TV commercials) from his mom because he consumed so many bowls of Kellogg's Corn Flakes, grew up with sisters Wanda, Karen, Cresseda, Melody and Gale and brothers Terry, Joel, Gary, Ken, Kevin, Chris and Corey.

"Our home was a very peaceful and joyous and a positive environment with a lot of love and nurturing from my mom and my dad. They called us the Ward Athletic Team because we always had basketballs, baseballs and footballs in the backyard," he reminisced.

"Baseball and basketball were my loves as a boy. We later moved to Hobbs Avenue and had a basketball court that we called ODSU, Old Dirt State University, because it was made out of dirt and had lot of knots in it, and that's where I learned to handle a basketball," said Ward, who played the sport at Lebanon High for Coach Hester Gibbs.

His senior year of 1976, the team sported a record of 23 wins and 3 losses. He played the next season as a freshman at Cumberland Junior College, before he began drifting across the continent.

Struggles and successes

By the mid-1980s, Ward began using cocaine. He struggled with the addiction and was living in homeless shelters for years until 2006 when he found himself down and out in Phoenix, Arizona.

"I had to leave Phoenix. I was getting into a lot of trouble and went up to Flagstaff. When I got there I just changed my whole life. I went from a city of 7 million people to 60,000. I stopped using it on my own. I said, 'That's it.' I had always kept myself in shape and was kind of living a double lifestyle. But it was also the birth of my daughter Covina that really made me stop. I never looked back. The Lord gave me that will power," he confessed.

Ward continues to work out. Every other day he rides a stationary bike for 30 minutes, lifts weights for 30 minutes and swims 30 minutes.

His book publishing deal came by providence after he met a woman in a Colorado laundry mat, who noticed the numbers 31,600 across the front of his ball cap.

"She asked me what they stood for, and I told her my story. She said, 'I'm a writer. I want to help you do this book.' I wrote it, and she kind of edited it for me and had it published," said Mr. Push-Ups, who has two more goals to accomplish.

"I hope to be coaching a high school basketball team next year, and, ultimately, I would love to coach a pro basketball in a foreign country. That would top off my career."

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.

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