Remember in last week’s post I mentioned that I was training for the Push-Up World Championships in Belgium? Well, it didn’t go exactly as expected. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I won. That’s 7 years in a row for those of you keeping track! But it’s what happened afterward that surprised me.
I should start from the beginning…
I arrived in Antwerp on the eve of the start of the competition to the type of fanfare you would expect for someone of my wealth and success. We’re talking, like, four different colours of balloons!
Then I headed over to a local television station in Dilbeek to promote the event on their morning news show. I was so charming during my interview they invited me to participate in the cooking segment. We made waterzooi. It was delicious.
I felt good going into the competition, and I only felt better as the event progressed. I rolled through the round robin stage, and had no trouble getting through the double elimination playoffs. In the finals, I was matched up against a legendary Latvian push-up competitor by the name of Olaf Redvedev. He is a legend because he is a 15-time European Push-Up Champion, winning the last four with only one arm. He had lost his left arm in a freak tether ball accident. Olaf also sports a fashionable patch over his right eye, which he lost in another freak tether ball accident a year later. Some people never learn, I guess.
The battle with Olaf was fierce, but I outlasted the one-armed Latvian to capture my seventh world title. Hooray for me! Afterwards, during the awards reception, Olaf and I had a conversation that would end up changing my life.
Olaf: Congratulations, Chris. You performed well today.
Me: Thanks, Olaf. I’m really good at beating one-armed men in push-up competitions.
Olaf: Clearly. But tell me. Do you desire to be a real champion?
Me: What are you talking about? I just won the World Push-Up Championship. I beat you, remember?
Olaf: I remember, but beating me and winning this… “contest” does not make you a real champion.
Me: Okay, I’ll bite. How do I become a real champion?
Olaf: You come with me. Right now.
Me: Okay. But I have to pee first.
After taking a completely reasonable 18 minutes to go pee, me and a suddenly perturbed Olaf (probably because he didn’t think to pee before we left) walked through the mean streets of Antwerp until we found ourselves in front of a Pizza Hut.
Me: You want to challenge me to an eating contest? Well okay, but I ate a bucketful of waterzooi earlier.
Olaf: No. If you want to be a real push-up champion, you need to win here.
Me: Let me get this straight. You want me to beat a bunch of Pizza Hut patrons in a push-up competition?
Olaf: Not exactly.
Olaf led me into the restaurant’s kitchen, where he proceeded to pull a pizza oven away from a wall. Behind the greasy oven was a large wooden door. I commented that having a wood door behind an oven seemed like a fire hazard, but Olaf must not have heard because he just banged on the door without acknowledging my comment (he probably lost some of his hearing in a freak tether ball accident). The door opened a few moments later with a six-foot-six man standing in the doorway. His face was covered with a tattoo of a flaming skull. The flaming skull man talked to Olaf in some sort of gibberish language, but when they were done Olaf and I were allowed to enter.
The flaming skull man led us down a narrow set of stairs into the basement of the Pizza Hut. I could smell the musty air almost immediately, and the sound of voices chattering to one another got louder with every step we took. When we made it to the bottom of the steps, we were in a dimly lit room that was barely big enough to house the 20 or so other men who were already there. The grey walls were lined with a number of pieces of rusted kitchen equipment, and tiny pebbles covered the dirt floor.
Olaf: I think we are the last to arrive.
Me: The last to arrive to what? What the hell is this, Olaf?
Olaf: This is where real men show their strength. This is where you can become a real push-up champion.
Me: Have you ever won here?
Olaf: No. When I competed here, before I lost my arm, I was always beaten by one man. His name is Vladimir Kruschev and he is the most evil man I have ever met.
Olaf nodded towards a shirtless, muscled-bound man with a black goatee and shaved head. He had no neck to speak of.
Me: Is that a hammer and sickle tattooed on his chest?
Olaf: Yes. He was raised in Omsk, and walked from there to Moscow to join the Red Army when he was 15 years old.
Me: He walked from Omsk to Moscow? Were there no recruiting stations where he was from?
Olaf: Yes, but he wanted to send a message. He is always sending a message.
Me: Well, the message I’m getting is that he’s not too smart.
Olaf: He is smart enough. He won his first Red Army push-up championship when he was 17. Afterwards, he entered an elite academy where he was specially trained to stamp out freedom and democracy. Ever since then he has lived and breathed communism and totalitarian rule. If it were up to him, the Soviet Union would still exist and they would expand across the globe.
Me: Sorry, I stopped listening. Can you give me the Coles Notes version?
Olaf: *sigh* He is a bad person. He hates democracy.
Me: Then I will defeat him. For democracy.
Olaf: The winner also gets a Pizza Hut gift card.
I paused for a moment.
Me: I must break him.
The murmuring in the dank basement dissipated as someone in a black suit and tie began to speak.
Announcer: Gentlemen. Welcome to the real push-up championship!
A roar erupted from everyone except the big Soviet-era Russian. He just stared at me, as if he knew I was going to be his biggest challenge. Or maybe it was because I was picking my nose.
Announcer: You all know how this works. We use standard European competition rules.
Me: Obviously. Olaf, what does that mean?
Olaf: Last man standing wins.
Me: Wait, what? Last man standing? I thought this was a push-up contest.
Olaf: I meant it figuratively, not literally.
Me: Try to be more clear next time, okay? I’m having enough trouble understanding your language as it is.
Olaf: I’m speaking English.
Me: Are you?
Announcer: Before we start, allow me to introduce you to some very special guests. First, we have the winner of the so-called “World Push-Up Championship”.
Everyone laughed at that. Except of course for the Russian. He continued to stare at me, even though I had stopped picking my nose about 10 seconds earlier.
Announcer: Here he is, the American, Chris Lackie!
Everyone jeered and laughed even louder than before. I waited for them to settle down before I fired back.
Me: Hey, I’m Canadian.
Announcer: What’s the difference?
Me: Umm… We’re further north?
Olaf: Ugh. I’ve made a terrible mistake.
Me: Tell me about it. Black socks with brown shoes? That’s a fashion faux-pas if I ever saw one.
Announcer: And now, let me introduce you to the real world push-up champion. From the frozen tundra of Siberia, here is Vladimir “The Impaler” Kruschev!
Everyone but me and Olaf cheered.
Me: Why do they call him “The Impaler”?
A smile crept across Olaf’s face. He leaned in and whispered in my ear.
Me: Oh, that’s disgusting. And none of them could sit right for a week?
Olaf: Not one.
Announcer: Let the battle begin!
As everyone found themselves a piece of floor to begin the contest, the Impaler made his way over to me. I could almost swear the building shook with each step he took, but it could have been a train going by. It’s hard to say.
His accent was very thick.
Vladimir: You think you are champion?
Me: At most things, yes.
Vladimir: You are no champion.
He stepped closer to me. I could feel his breath on my face.
Vladimir: I must break you.
Me: I already made that reference.
Me and the Russian took our spots directly in front of each other in the middle of the room. As I got on all fours (which happens from time to time) I cleared away some of the pebbles that covered the floor.
Announcer: Gentlemen. One!
Everyone went up and down.
Everyone went up and down again. And again. And again.
After a while, people started to collapse to the ground in pain. At the 3 hour mark, about 15 of the original 20-something were still competing. This number dropped to 10 at the 5 hour mark, and to 5 at the 10 hour mark. Then at the 12 hour mark, it was just me and the Russian. The other competitors remained to see who would win. The announcer had clearly gotten tired, but continued to call out numbers, just as we had continued to do push-ups.
In between pushes, I glanced up to look at my opponent. He was a remorseless push-up machine. He was never going to stop. If I was going to win that Pizza Hut gift card (and uh… support democracy), I was going to have to outsmart the man they called the Impaler.
And then suddenly, it came to me.
Me: Dun. Dun-dun-dun. Dun-dun-dun. Dun-du-dunnnnn.
Vladimir raised his eyes to look at me.
Me: Something… something… eye of the tiger, something da-da-da-da, and na na na na na na rivals!
Vladimir: What are you doing?
Olaf: Yes, I think we’d all like to know.
Me: I’m singing Eye of the Tiger. You know, by that band…
Me: No, that’s not it.
Vladimir: Why are you sing that song now? It is song for training montage, not actual contest.
Me: What? No way! It’s an all the time pump up song. Doo doo da doo doo da doooooo! Of the tiger!
Vladimir: You don’t even know words! People like you make me so mad! I want to strangle…
Just then, the Impaler lifted both of his hands up to reach for my throat and promptly fell face first into the floor.
Announcer: That’s it! We have a winner! Chris Lackie!
As I got to my feet and the Announcer raised my arm in victory, a roar rose from the crowd, with Olaf roaring the loudest.
Vladimir: No! You cheated! You cheated me!
Me: You’re right. I played dirty. I can do that because I’m a free man. Heh, would you look at that? I just introduced you to freedom. You’re welcome.
Vladimir: I do not understand what you are talking about.
Me: Neither do I.
Olaf gave me a big manly one-armed hug.
Olaf: Congratulations, Chris!
Me: Thanks, Olaf. I couldn’t have done it without you. Well, I mean, I probably could have, but, you know… I’m glad you’re here.
Announcer: Congratulations, Mr. Lackie. You really are the Push-Up World Champion. Here is your Pizza Hut gift card.
Me: Thank you. So how about it, Olaf? How about you let me buy you some dinner. How much is on this thing anyway?
Announcer: Ten Euros.
Me: Ten Euros? That’s like… Uh, Olaf? Can I borrow a few bucks for pizza?
And that is the story of how I became the real world push-up champion. I’d like to thank Olaf for his support and the 15 Euros he lent me for pizza. Man, pizza is expensive in Belgium. Anyway, that’s it for another week. Tune in next time for… something…