Mastery Martial Arts in Johnston played host to a family affair with a united goal this weekend.
Chief instructor Anthony Pezzillo welcomed a modest crowd as eight Mastery locations across the state worked to complete 20,000 pushups to raise money for the New England Hemophilia Association. That bleeding disorder is personal for Pezzillo, as both he and his brother, NEHA Executive Director Rich Pezzillo, have lived with it since birth.
It was Anthony’s idea to approach Rich with a unique fundraiser, in the same vein as breaking boards for cancer research.
“It’s a condition you didn’t ask for, it’s something you’re given and you basically deal with the cards you’re dealt,” Anthony said. “To do something like this and raise awareness in the community, it’s very special…We always said we wanted to do something. We always used to do other things, and I said, ‘How about a pushup challenge?’”
Students at the Johnston location and the parents took to the mat around 10 a.m. with a piece of paper and all the muscle they could muster, keeping track of how many pushups they could perform.
Anthony and Richard’s father even sat on the side and walked across the surface with a camera, commemorating the occasion.
“It’s just fun,” Anthony said, noting that there had been 16,000 pushups logged just counting Johnston and East Greenwich studios alone. “Watching kids and watching family members get involved and do some pushups. There’s nothing negative about people enjoying time together and being so proactive.”
Rich said via text message Tuesday morning that more than $11,000 had been raised online so far, but stressed that all the checks and cash from those who stayed home have not been counted yet.
“We’re confident we’re going to reach that goal,” Rich said.
Rich said the 20,000 figure also represents how many people suffer from hemophilia in the United States, though that number rises when considering all bleeding disorders. He said the goal is 2,500 pushups per location, with the suggested donation of $1 per pushup.
Those looking to donate funds can visit masterypushups.com to join the virtual campaign, which Rich said is going just as strong.
“Despite the limitations that the state and the world has with the coronavirus, the organizations online so far have raised over $5,000,” Rich said. “That does not include the pledges that are coming in, the cash that’s coming in to the school. This is going to be the entire month of March, so what we’re going to do is turn this into a virtual, online campaign where each person will be asked to tag three people and donate $10 for 10 pushups.”
The Pezzillo brothers gave brief opening remarks, with Rich addressing the younger students and asking if they knew what hemophilia is. Hemophilia is one of several bleeding disorders, and those who have it are missing a clotting factor in their liver.
Rich used a playful metaphor to make the connection.
“Have you guys played with dominos before?” Rich said. “What happens when you hit the first domino? They all fall on top of each other. So, inside of everyone’s liver, there’s 13 dominos. Someone with Hemophilia A is missing their eighth domino, so if you hit one through seven, what happens if there’s no domino there? The rest can’t fall down. Someone with Hemophilia B is missing their ninth domino. It’s something you are born with. You cannot catch it, and it’s in your liver.”
Rich explained that hemophilia is among one of the most expensive conditions to treat, costing upward of $350,000 a year for medication. However, with events like Mastery’s pushups fundraiser, NEHA can help put a dent in some of those costs - and the future is bright.
“What’s really exciting is that there are new treatments coming out every day and you have people that are living happy and healthy and normal lives,” Rich said. “We’re so excited that Mastery is doing this, and thank you guys for helping to raise money and to raise awareness about bleeding disorders … I’ll be here, and I’ll be cheering you guys on.”
Rounds were divided into segments, where participants were timed and allowed to do as many pushups as possible. Some did regular pushups, some performed them against the wall and others engaged in a particularly exhaustive method - throwing down a gym bag, leaping over it, doing pushups and then repeating the process until the timer runs out.
No matter what type of pushup or how many were recorded, both Pezzillos were pleased to see the community come together for a great cause.
“I’m really excited,” Anthony said just before the pushups started.
“Things are going great,” Rich said, before looking to the web-based fundraiser. “The suggestion would be, online, do as many as you can, tag people and hopefully do an online component of a virtual pushup-a-thon.”