When Tyson Mayr does a pushup, he means business.
To date, he’s done tens of thousands of pushups all over the world with one mission in mind: to bring clean drinking water to those who need it most.
Growing up on a farm in the Australian bush, Mayr never imagined he’d one day travel the world, let alone try to change it.
His first trip abroad — a three-month jaunt through Thailand, Mexico, and Brazil at the ripe age of 22 — exposed him to both the beauty and problems of the Third World. He developed a serious case of wanderlust, as well as a philanthropic itch that he couldn’t quite seem to scratch. At least not from his hometown in Queensland.
“My life was great, but it always felt like there was something more out there, not just to do but to experience,” says Mayr, now 28.
“When I first started traveling, I did all those first bucket-list things, like running with the bulls. But I also experienced so many culture shocks. I’d never witnessed homelessness or poverty to the extent I was seeing it.”
The more Mayr traveled, the more he saw a recurring problem: the lack of clean water. “In Australia, you drink water anywhere — out of the tap, from the creek,” he says. “Then you go into these other countries where children are dying left and right from waterborne diseases. You go to some places and see children drinking this polluted water — water you wouldn’t even walk through.”
According to UNICEF, 748 million people around the world lack access to safe, clean drinking water. Globally, waterborne illnesses are the second leading cause of death for children under 5 years old, killing 1,400 each day.
The stats are chilling, and change seems beyond the abilities of any one person.
But as Mayr was preparing to embark on a trip through Central America, he learned about the nonprofit group RainCatcher, one of a growing number of organizations aimed at spreading awareness about the world’s clean-water problem.
RainCatcher is dedicated to rain-water harvesting and the dissemination of water filters. Mayr learned that each filter costs about $50 and can remove bacteria and sediment from a million gallons of water — enough to serve thousands of children, he says.
“I suddenly understood that lack of access to clean drinking water was a problem that had a solution,” he recalls. “It was just a matter of carrying these filters with me in my bag, and when I came across a school or an orphanage, or just a village that was affected by contaminated water, I could stop and install them.”
And like that, Mayr set off to Mexico, Panama, Guatemala, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic with filters in his backpack. “As soon as I realized I was in a unique position to make a difference with little effort, there was no turning back.”
As he traveled, he took note of communities that would benefit from more specialized water-harvesting projects. And he began to brainstorm fundraising possibilities.
While some people might organize a 5K run or benefit concert, Mayr’s idea was much more down to earth: Do pushups.
“I wanted to show people that you don’t need some elaborate fundraiser with a huge budget to make a difference. I wanted to show people it could be simple; anyone can do it and it can make a difference.”
He reached out to friends, family, and strangers via social media, inviting everyone to sponsor him doing a pushup for “10 cents, 50 cents, a dollar, whatever, any donation at all.”
For his first fundraiser, people sponsored 88 pushups, donating more than $700 — “enough for eight filters, which is 8 million gallons of clean water from two minutes’ worth of pushups,” says Mayr.
Soon, he was thinking bigger: He committed to performing 10,000 pushups in 10 days to raise money for communities in Uganda. As he did the pushups — with children from a local Ugandan orphanage sitting on his back — people from around the world joined him in solidarity.
Students from a school in Wyoming committed to doing 10,000 pushups, too, and raised about $1,100. A research team in Antarctica joined in.
Then actor Hugh Jackman, who was filming a movie in South Africa at the time, signed on. People everywhere dropped and did their part.
“It was so amazing to see this international response,” Mayr says.
After all that, anyone else would probably swear off pushups forever, but Mayr laughs at the suggestion and shrugs off the effort. “You know what? It keeps me fit,” says Mayr, who has done some modeling on the side. “In Uganda, I ended up doing 19,000 pushups — so I looked fantastic,” he says jokingly.
The truth is, the pushups are only a small part of the work Mayr and RainCatcher have accomplished. Mayr has helped install water filters in hundreds of schools, orphanages, and villages worldwide. During the Uganda trip alone, his team installed 100 filters, as well as rain-harvesting systems in 40 schools.
“These experiences make me so grateful for everything I’ve ever had,” Mayr says. “Now I want to not only help other people, but also share the opportunity to inspire people to do the same. Whether it’s traveling with a cause, or helping out in their local community, or just aiding a friend, there are simple things we can all do. It doesn’t take much to help someone.”
How to Do the Perfect Pushup
Refine your technique so the next time Tyson Mayr organizes a fundraiser, you can join in.
- From a kneeling position, place both hands on the floor, even with your sternum. Check that your middle fingers are pointing straight forward, and then, keeping your elbows close to your body and slightly tucking the hips, come into a plank position.
- Slowly lower your body. Your head should remain neutral throughout the exercise, falling in line with the rest of your body. Fight the urge to tuck or jut your chin.
- When your chest almost touches your hands, grip the floor with your fingers until your knuckles begin to go white and — concentrating on pushing from your armpits, not your shoulders — slowly return to the start position. (Relax your hands again on your way back down.)