This NC man will attempt 20,000 push-ups in 12 hours. Why? ‘The rent is due,’ he says
“Ten push-ups, go!” Jamie McGrath says.
The trainer is crouching on the floor in front of Timothy Shane Johnson (aka “TShane”), and the hulking man obeys her command as she counts off a set made more difficult because he’s trying to keep his 230-pound frame steady atop a board that’s balancing on a cylindrical roller.
As soon as Johnson completes No. 10, McGrath directs him to go straight into a plank position, from which he lets out a series of pained grunts, making the noises his muscles probably would like to but can’t.
McGrath encourages him: “You got it, you got it, hold strong, come on.” Then, after watching him hold a plank for several seconds on the balance board, she calls out, “Ten!”
Johnson bangs out 10 more push-ups, then crumples to his knees in exhaustion ... at which point McGrath immediately explains that her “Ten!” was an order for him to take 10 seconds off. “But 10 more’s always good,” she says of his extra push-ups, laughing, as he flashes a weak smile and struggles to catch his breath.
“Extra push-ups in this training,” McGrath concludes, “isn’t gonna hurt us.”
Extra push-ups in fact will be the whole ballgame for Johnson at this gym on Saturday, when the 41-year-old Pineville man — a former Marine who says he died three times as a young man and who spent two years living on the streets of Charlotte — will make a mind-boggling attempt to break a pair of Guinness World Records: the most push-ups in one hour and the most push-ups in 12 hours.
And we do mean mind-boggling. Between 6 and 7 a.m. Saturday, Johnson hopes to blitz through 3,000 push-ups inside McGrath’s Southpaw Training Center. By dinnertime, he thinks he will have completed 20,000.
So, who exactly is this guy? What does that mean, “he died three times”? What caused him to be homeless? Why is he doing this? Is it really possible to do that many push-ups? How would he respond to those who will inevitably cry that he isn’t doing “real” push-ups?
We’ve got answers to all of those questions.
Who exactly is TShane Johnson?
Johnson says he grew up poor on a ranch in Arcadia — a tiny city in the middle of Florida cowboy country about an hour east of Sarasota — with a father who worked as a correctional officer and entered bull-riding competitions for fun.
He had two childhood dreams, and showed discipline early on when it came to pursuing them.
First, he wanted to join the Marine Corps, partly because he saw it as his eventual ticket out of town but mostly because he viewed it as “the most dominating fighting force in the entire world ... better and bigger than any gang that’s in existence. So why not? My personality’s always been, If I’m gonna do something, why not be the best at it?” He was so determined that, as a senior at DeSoto County High School, he says he quit the football team because he was afraid of suffering an injury that would derail his military career.
Secondly, he wanted to become a professional bodybuilder. And, of course, he wanted to be the best. “I mean, I was a kid that didn’t go out in high school and drink, because I was too busy at home bodybuilding, training, drinking protein shakes, and reading books about Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno and Frank Zane.”
He joined the Marines after graduating, did a tour of duty on Okinawa Island in Japan, then returned to the U.S. to become part of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines infantry battalion in Twentynine Palms, Calif.
But in 2000, when he was just 20 years old, Johnson was involved in a frightening motorcycle crash near the base that wound up leading to a premature end to his service. (More on that in a minute.)
Johnson says that after he recovered from the crash he dabbled in bodybuilding competitions, and though he never made a name for himself in the sport, he never lost his passion for hitting the gym and “throwing some steel around.”
Eventually, he developed a new passion: raising awareness and money for organizations that supported veterans in need. It wound up dovetailing nicely with his love of physical fitness.
In 2016, he launched his “Hike Across America” concept, which started with a walk of nearly 400 miles from Orlando to Panama City, Fla., to raise awareness for homeless veterans and the difficulties they face going from active duty to civilian life. His most recent effort was in 2019, when he hiked from Ground Zero in New York City to Orlando to benefit a program that builds specially adapted “smart” homes for severely wounded veterans.
While making the latter trek, Johnson attended a football game at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., where he attempted to establish a world record for fastest mile carrying a 100-pound pack. He completed the distance in 13 minutes and 5 seconds. (Guinness does not acknowledge his feat on its site — he says, because COVID has delayed approval of his application.)
Johnson has self-published three motivational books and says he makes a living in the Charlotte area as an entrepreneur.
What does that mean, ‘he died three times’?
According to Johnson, members of the MS-13 gang caused the 2000 crash in southern California.
He was heading out on his motorcycle to meet some friends while on a three-day pass. As he was approaching an intersection at about 45 miles per hour, Johnson says, a car driven by a gang member broadsided him. He sailed off the bike and caught the corner of a brick house across his chest.
But the attack wasn’t over, he says: The car pulled over, gang members got out, came over, and kicked him while he was down before taking off with his wallet and leaving him for dead.
Somehow, he says, despite a laundry list of injuries — he says he suffered a broken sternum, a broken collarbone, a broken shoulder, a broken hand, fractured ribs, a lacerated kidney, a lacerated liver, punctured lungs and a deep wound to his left bicep — he was able to drag himself to a nearby fire station, where a medevac helicopter was summoned. (Bystanders wouldn’t help him, he believes, because they feared retribution from MS-13.)
The pain, Johnson recalls, was excruciating. But he also says he remembers, at one point, feeling “a euphoric high like no other.”
That high overcame him, he says, during what he calls “a subconscious conversation” with God. “The gist of it was, ‘You have two choices: One, you can die. You can let go, and everything’ll be all right. No worries, no problems, no nothing. ... Or, you can live, and you can go through life. You’re gonna have a lot of pain. But you’re gonna tell the story.’”
Johnson chose the latter. Doctors would later explain, he says, that he flat-lined three times while emergency responders were trying to save his life.
He says he spent three months in the hospital, and “had to learn how to walk, talk and breathe again.”
Johnson says he was granted an early release, about a month before his four-year commitment to the Corps was scheduled to end.
To this day, he says, he has a number of lingering medical issues from his crash injuries, including severe lung damage (he says his lung capacity is half of the 80 percent most healthy people can claim); degenerative back disease; and nerve damage in his right forearm. His right hand also shakes uncontrollably when he tries to hold it still.
What caused him to be homeless?
It’s a long story, but the short version is this:
When the recession hit, he says he lost everything practically overnight.
He says he moved to Charlotte in 2010 — with just $500 left to his name — to take a job at a gym. Then a series of unfortunate events resulted in even greater financial hardship. He says he wound up selling almost everything he owned, except for a few suits, some workout clothes, and his laptop. He moved out of his apartment and started sleeping near an office building off of Arrowood Road in southwest Charlotte.
His car had been repossessed, he says, so he walked everywhere. He says he always looked clean and professional, and that you wouldn’t have been able to tell he was homeless by looking at him.
Johnson would buy the cheapest breakfast items he could at the Dunkin Donuts in the Ayrsley shopping center near Steele Creek, then sit in a booth using their free wifi as he plotted how to get out of his predicament.
He was homeless in Charlotte for two years, he says. But there was one monthly bill he never stopped paying: his membership at Planet Fitness. It gave him a place to shower. Equally as important, though, was that he always had a place to throw some steel around.
Why is he doing this?
Push-ups have been a part of Johnson’s life since he was a boy.
As a bull-rider, his father was always trying to build and maintain upper-body and core strength, and he turned it into a family affair by initiating regular games of “card push-ups.” The idea was simple: Father and son would take turns drawing playing cards from a deck, with each doing a corresponding number of push-ups until the whole deck was played.
Then in the Marine Corps, Johnson says he became notorious for being able to do a seemingly endless amount of push-ups.
But in a broader sense, he’s trying to do 20,000 push-ups on Saturday for the same reasons he hiked down the Eastern seaboard and went after the world record at Old Dominion’s football stadium.
After his experience with God, he says, “I was trying to figure out, Who am I? I mean, I’m a nobody. I’m just some guy from a small town that joined the military. Why — out of all the guys in the military that went overseas that didn’t come back — why did I get that choice? And then you go through the burden of (the choice). And that’s a pretty big burden. Because you’re like, ‘I gotta do something with this. I better do something with it. Don’t be a loser. Don’t just sit back and drink beer with your buddies and goof off and live some regular life. I’ve gotta be epic.
“It’s like, the rent is due. That’s what it feels like. It feels like I’ve gotta pay up.”
This time around, Johnson is raising money and awareness for the National Purple Heart Honor Mission. A spokesperson for Charlotte-based LendingTree confirmed Friday that the company has pledged $10,000 to the cause; Johnson hopes to raise another $5,000 in donations by the weekend.
And if nothing else, he hopes to inspire his 6-year-old daughter, Charli.
“I want her to be able to look at her dad and say, ‘You know what? Regular people can do amazing things.’”
Is it really possible to do that many push-ups?
To break the first record — the most push-ups in one hour (currently 2,919, held by Jarrad Young) — Johnson will have to complete 50 push-ups every minute for 60 minutes. To break the second — the most push-ups in 12 hours (currently 19,325, a mark held by the UK’s Paddy Doyle since 1989) — Johnson will need to then do 25 to 26 per minute for the next 11 hours.
For the past five months, he’s been preparing his body to make this attempt under the guidance of Jamie McGrath at Southpaw Training Center, a gym not far from his Pineville home. Six days a week, for one to two hours a day, McGrath runs Johnson through a relentless series of strength and conditioning exercises that leave his clothes drenched in sweat and his lungs fighting for air.
It’s not all about push-ups. But he certainly does plenty, often several hundred an hour.
“I’m just creating it as we go, because there’s no rulebook on this,” says McGrath, a former national amateur boxing champion in the flyweight division.
“He’ll do fine,” she adds, when asked if he’s up to the challenge. “He’s ready.”
How would he respond to those who will inevitably cry that he isn’t doing ‘real’ push-ups?
Guinness World Records’ definition of a push-up goes like this:
“Both hands must be flat on the floor, directly under the shoulders or at a slightly wider measurement than the body. The body must then be lowered until at least a 90-degree angle is attained at the elbow (the chest will be very near the floor). The body is then raised until the arms are once again completely straight (although they do not need to be locked at the elbow).”
The 90-degree angle part and the distinction that arms don’t need to be locked out are key, as it gives those making an attempt a little leeway on each end of the push-up.
In the video of Jarrad Young breaking the world record for most in an hour on YouTube, for example, you can see that while his hair gets very close to the ground, the upper part of his chest really doesn’t.
The commenters on the video do not hold back.
“Guinness record for most half pushups,” says one. “If a drill instructor were counting these: ZERO, ZERRROOO. STILL ZERROOOO,” says another.
So Johnson certainly knows what’s coming his way.
“Yeah, the push-up police are gonna have a field day with that issue,” he says, laughing, “and yeah, a lot of times you’ll see these videos of these guys, they just kind of look like they’re barely going. Now, mine will be a lot further down. We’ve already trained accordingly for that. But look, Guinness says that as long as you’re breaking the 90-degree plane ... they consider it as a push-up.”
And he’s happy to extend an invitation to anyone who thinks what he’s attempting is easy.
“I challenge anyone to try to pump out 20,000 push-ups, even if they’re just halfway,” Johnson says, his biceps still bulging and slick with sweat from a workout during which he knocked out close to 700.
“You’re more than welcome to get right next to me on Saturday and join me.”
Watch Timothy Shane Johnson (aka “TShane”) attempt two Guinness World Records during his Push-Ups for Purple Hearts Challenge at Southpaw Training Center in Pineville starting at 6 a.m. Saturday via this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQ-ZUMSx0hM.