Has anyone ever met math teacher’s push-up challenge?

December 2, 2013 — by Michelle Leung and Carolyn Sun

For the longest time, math teacher PJ Yim’s so-called push-up challenge remained undefeated. 

For the longest time, math teacher PJ Yim’s so-called push-up challenge remained undefeated. 
The premise seems simple: a student does one push-up in the first 15 seconds, two in the second 15 seconds, three in third 15 seconds, and so on until 15 push-ups in 15 seconds. But it’s simple in a misleading way — and no Yim student at the school had ever beaten it. 
Since 2008, Yim has always introduced the challenge during the arithmetic sums unit, which students treat with the usual ambivalence until Yim mentions his famous challenge.  
“When we get to the arithmetic sums during second semester, kids are usually kind of 'duhhh' and tired,” Yim said. “So I try to make it more fun for them, wake them up for a couple minutes.”
Added Yim: “The appeal of [the challenge] is that when [students hear] ‘To the round of nine,’ they don't think much of it. But to nine you have to add eight and seven and so on. To reach 10 [you need a total of] 55 push-ups. To reach 11, you need 66, and to reach 12, you need 78.”
The resting periods in between each round of push-ups make it even harder to complete the challenge. According to Yim, doing 78 push-ups in a row is easier because of adrenaline and rhythm. However, the 15-second intervals force the muscles to relax and tense repeatedly, making it more difficult. 
Yim learned about the push-up challenge from a friend who was a two-time Olympic wrestling medalist.
“I don't think I ever [completed] it when I was younger,” Yim said. “I got to maybe about 13 or 14 [rounds]. That was when I used to be able to do 80 plus push-ups per minute, which is not too bad.”
Yim has never seen any student in his class complete the push-up challenge in front of him, though he has heard that world geography and PE teacher Rick Ellis has completed it. 
Additionally, senior Mike Fitzsimmons reportedly completed Yim’s push-up challenge as a sophomore. After hearing about it from a friend in Yim’s class, he decided to try it, with his friend senior Eric Kao videotaping him for a media arts project.
“[Kao] was trying to prove it can’t be done,” Fitzsimmons said. “He knows that I can do a lot of push-ups, so he was like, ‘If you can’t do it, nobody can.’ He was filming me, wanting me to fail. He was even cheating on the clock a little bit.” 
Currently, Fitzsimmons is capable of doing “only” 50 push-ups straight, but in his sophomore year, he could do 80 push-ups in a minute. Although the challenge was not easy, Fitzsimmons said it was not “too bad.” 
“I didn’t care about completing the challenge,” Fitzsimmons said. “[Kao] was mad because I didn’t fail, though, since I ruined his project.”
Ellis completed the challenge four years ago.
“The challenge was very difficult,” Ellis said. “And [I] don't think I could do it again.”
Yim said that, if true, Fitzsimmons and Ellis have accomplished a feat beyond Olympian — literally, because his friend, the Korean Olympic wrestling medalist, could never complete the challenge.
Yim jokes that he would treat his student victors with a steak dinner, but only because he believes none of his students will ever win. 
“It would be kind of weird to be sitting across [each other] with candlelight,” Yim says. “I tell them they can join me in my next dinner, but it would be kind of awkward.”
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