Matthew Nickerson ’24
Features Staff Writer
It was during the onset of quarantine in spring 2020 that David Brush first began performing chin-ups, looking to build his upper-body strength while stuck at home. Despite this, he did not contemplate performing such a large number of them until January of this year, when his beloved grandfather died of Parkinson’s disease. Immediately, David sought out a manner in which to raise funds for research on the disease. His original plan to do so was to run in the Martha Vineyard’s marathon in May with a cousin, having run track and field in high school. After sustaining a stress fracture and being unable to consistently train, David began searching for another challenge. Eventually he found the 24 hour chin-up record, set at 5,340 reps in 2020. “As impressive as the record was,” says David, “it looked achievable.”
In February, David set his date for Aug. 20 and began training at the Jo. He trained for hours every day and was able to perform 2,000 reps exactly three months into training. After crossing that threshold however, a shoulder injury left David unable to perform chin-ups for three weeks. In order to maintain his fitness, he resorted to static holds and upside-down reps. “I didn’t have time for injuries,” David said. Once the summer began, he brought his training to his house on Shelter Island, where the record was set to take place. It was here that David began training on his official bar, just under two months before his attempt. All seemed to be going well until David caught Covid-19 in July, causing him to miss over a week of peak training. David described this “forced rest” as a blessing in disguise, because it gave him time to figure out his pacing and hand protection for Aug. 20. “I came back from Covid more motivated than ever,” he said.
Despite his physical preparation, David reasoned that the challenge would be mostly mental. “Training could only take me so far,” he said. In regards to his diet, David, already a vegetarian, says that he cut sweets out of his diet, allowing some only on holidays. He says that, although reactions to his effort were almost exclusively positive, some people believed that his lean physique would put him at a disadvantage. “I wasn’t training for strength, ” said David. “Efficiency was the name of the game, so my weight was quite helpful.”
As Aug. 20 drew nearer, David’s fundraising goal of $1,375 was shattered, with his fundraising surpassing his expectations multiple times: His initial goal of raising $1,375 representing a quarter per rep was quickly overtaken, with $2,000 being raised within a couple of days. Inspired, David set the new target to $5,500, equivalent to $1 for every rep he planned to complete.
On Aug. 20, David woke up early at 6:00 a.m. with about five hours of sleep under his belt, filled with nerves and excitement. Friends and family gathered at the house to show support and helm the video livestream, as well as volunteer witnesses due to the mandates of Guinness World Records. David began his chin-ups at noon on the dot. He says that it took him around 1,000 reps to calm his nerves and truly create a rhythm. Upon achieving that rhythm, he worked at a steady pace of 5 reps per minute. When he crossed 3,000 chin-ups, his hands started getting torn up due to the lack of padding on the bar. “Touching the bar was excruciating,” he tells me. In between sets, he used the bathroom and ate quick bites of food. One thing David did not take any breaks for was sleep: He kept going into the night. David pushed through what he describes as “minor injuries,” such as tendonitis and a pinched nerve, on top of general fatigue. He could frequently be seen icing his elbows and wrapping his hands with tape, yet somehow he “felt good, all things considered.”
For David, the night was the hardest part. Although he was in the 4,500–5,000 range, he’d shifted to doing four reps per minute, and it was pitch-black outside. He credits the presence of his family and friends, who stayed awake alongside him, for keeping his spirits high. When the sun rose later in the morning, it boosted the morale of everyone in the room. David broke the world record with five hours to spare, causing the room to explode in celebration. On top of that, David found out that his $5,500 fundraising target had been surpassed. All of this good news revitalized him, and he ramped up his pace to perform three chin-ups every 30 seconds, or six per minute. By the 24 hour mark, David ended with 6,757 reps, outperforming the previous record of 5,340. After the celebration, David says that he couldn’t keep his eyes open, and fell asleep for about 13 hours.
While the record will take some time to be officially approved by Guiness, David remains satisfied with another achievement very personal to him: having raised over $8,500 of funds for Parkinson’s research. “Really, all of this was for my grandpa,” he says. You can find videos and images of his chin-up achievement on his Instagram and YouTube page, and you can find him still performing chin-ups several days a week at the Jo here on campus. While nobody would blame him for taking a rest from the chin-ups, David brushes the idea aside. “We’re all capable of so much more than we realize.”