The founder of the push-up challenge, Nick Hudson, shares his own story with depression

A 44-year-old fitness fanatic has revealed how his own struggle with depression led him to start the push-up challenge that has raised $16 million for mental health in just three years.

Mining engineer Nick Hudson lost track of his own good sanity in 2018 when doctors told him he needed open-heart surgery.

Speaking to FEMAIL, the Perth surf lifesaver said doctors had forbidden him to raise his heart rate and told him to “relax” while he awaited surgery.

Mining engineer Nick Hudson, pictured second from left, has revealed how his mental health struggle in 2018 and 2019 led to the viral push-up challenge

Nick felt depressed leading up to and following his life-saving open-heart surgery in 2018

Nick felt depressed leading up to and following his life-saving open-heart surgery in 2018

But the command to just relax was hard to obey for the man who had spent 40 years building his closest relationships to stay active.

“My friends are also very active and our entire social life revolves around sports, which I was no longer allowed to participate in,” he said.

“Then when mental health started to deteriorate I didn’t want to burden them, I didn’t want them to be with depressed Nick because I felt my presence wouldn’t bring them any joy,” he said.

“So I removed myself from society.”

Living alone, Nick became increasingly withdrawn in the two months leading up to his surgery, slowly abandoning his place in any social setting.

He had done his best to comply with the movement bans, but didn’t realize how critical they were until he found himself at the side of the road, gasping for air.

“One day I was trying to cross the street and the green man started flashing red, so I decided to jog across the street,” he said.

Nick's entire social life revolved around exercise, so he felt like he'd lost everything when doctors told him to keep his heart rate down

Nick’s entire social life revolved around exercise, so he felt like he’d lost everything when doctors told him to keep his heart rate down

He was shocked when his physical condition deteriorated so quickly and he could hardly jog across the street without breathing difficulties

He was shocked when his physical condition deteriorated so quickly and he could hardly jog across the street without breathing difficulties

“It was less than 10 meters to the other side and I was out of breath and felt my heart doing strange things.”

This came as a big shock to the engineer, who used to spend most of his days paddling forward, ski paddling, swimming at the beach and doing 1000 push-ups with his buddies “for fun”.

“It was all a lot, the sudden lifestyle change, knowing I can’t just jog the last stretch if I cross the street or go up the escalator.”

He slowly turned his back on his friends because he didn't want them to see

He slowly turned his back on his friends because he didn’t want them to see “sad Nick”.

After his surgery, Nick was still in bed feeling miserable, falling deeper into his depression, but his buddies continued to send him “light” messages to let them know they were there.

Then one day Nick started running and slowly increased his physical activity.

He texted back to his friends and was very slow in allowing himself to be social.

“I realized that maybe my friendships were movement based, but they were also much deeper than that, these people liked me for me,” he said.

After being distant for months, he felt like “nothing’s changed” and “it felt like the old days” when he finally started spending time with his friends.

“The only thing that had changed all along was my attitude towards our friendship,” he said.

He used his recovery time to raise awareness of mental health with the now well-known push-up challenge

He used his recovery time to raise awareness of mental health with the now well-known push-up challenge

What are Nick’s top tips for improving your mental health?

1 – Know that the depression will eventually end. You could go backwards and maybe see no end, but it gets better.

2 – I increased my training as soon as possible and it has worked wonders

3 – Make sure you’re getting the right amount of sleep

4- Keep in touch with loved ones

It’s something she realized too late to have known, a year earlier his mother broke down in tears over dinner and revealed his father’s struggle with depression.

“I remember telling her she should have told me earlier because I could have been there for him,” he said.

“Now that I’m on both sides, I realize how difficult it is not to want to put the people you love down by telling them. Even after seeing my father and wishing more than anything that I could help, I couldn’t let others in when I went through it.

Nick's father had gone through his own battle with depression a few years earlier and kept it a secret from his sons, who were disappointed they couldn't have helped him after they found out

Nick’s father had gone through his own battle with depression a few years earlier and kept it a secret from his sons, who were disappointed they couldn’t have helped him after they found out

Nick was no stranger to push-up challenges, he did one with his buddies in 2017 to get fit for the summer, with each man aiming for 3000 reps in a month.

The following year they decided to make it bigger than his immediate group and 1000 friends and friends of friends got involved.

It was during this time, in mid-2018, that he realized he would need open-heart surgery.

When 2019 rolled around and he found out he still couldn’t work out, Nick decided to start a mental health initiative, and a push-up challenge seemed perfect.

But Nick finally understood his father's dilemma when he couldn't face

But Nick finally understood his father’s dilemma when he couldn’t face “burdening” his friends and family with his own mental health battle.

What is the push up challenge?

The goal of the push-up challenge is to complete about 3,139 push-ups in 24 days. But participants can opt for alternate exercises and aim to do a quarter, half, or three-quarters at a time if 3,000 seems too daunting.

Fundraising is optional and encouraged.

To start as an official member of the challenge you need to register on the site, it’s free.

You can join a community or team or start your own, or you can do it independently.

The money goes to mental health charities like Lifeline and Movember, as well as the Push for Better Foundation, which is associated with the initiative.

Click here to register.

This year, 50,000 people took part and the initiative raised $2.5 million for mental health charities and, more importantly, sparked conversation about the issue.

In 2020, the challenge started in May, a month early, to keep people in Covid lockdowns happy across the country.

130,000 people participated, raising a combined $5.1 million for mental health.

This exploded to 170,000 participants in 2021, with the challenge tweaked to allow for sit-ups and squats for people who prefer not to do push-ups.

Nick is very active again, but now understands that his personal relationships are based on more than just physical activity

Nick is very active again, but now understands that his personal relationships are based on more than just physical activity

So far, the initiative has helped raise more than $16 million, which Nick still doesn’t quite believe.

“For me, raising awareness is the most important thing, the money is an added bonus,” he said.

The participants receive a mental health tip every day for the duration of the challenge.

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