Pushing through COVID with serious fun

By John Lewis

When times get tough, the tough get going — or videoing.

While the rest of us were hiding under the doona during COVID-19 lockdown, Mark DePaola was out making wacky videos of himself doing push-ups around Shepparton.

For the past month, the Shepparton optometrist has taken part in a nationwide Facebook challenge to complete 25 push-ups a day for 25 days to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

Starting with push-ups in his loungeroom, the father-of-three moved outdoors to more challenging locations around Shepparton, helped by his teenage daughter Zoe behind the camera.

Then came increasingly bizarre themes, camera angles and music, with wife Amy as creative director.

Along the way, Mark has been filmed doing push-ups on a paddle board on Victoria Park Lake, at the skate park, at Shepparton's Australian Botanic Gardens, on the Chinese bridge at Monash Park and next to the Mooving Art cows.

“Walking past the lake on day two, Amy encouraged me to run up the hill next to the lake and Aquamoves with the sunrise behind me for the daily video,” he said.

“The effect was so striking that I realised that this was an opportunity to show off our wonderful city in these videos to our non-Shepparton friends.”

For this year's Sorry Day, Mark enlisted three friends, Jason Sherlock, Jason Wells and Guthrie St Primary School principal Brendan Bicknell, to complete 25 push-ups in front of the the mural of Shepparton indigenous elders Aunty Margaret Tucker and Nora ‘Nanny’ Charles off Fryers St.

Then things got wilder with recreations of scenes from movies The Matrix, Forrest Gump, Rocky and Risky Business, and Bee Gees dance moves.

For his final video last week, Mark wowed his audience with a recreation of his wedding day 20 years ago at Roy and Meryl Hill's Arcadia bush property. The icing on the video cake is the arrival of the bride — a tiny doll filmed in soft focus and held by his creative director, and real-life bride, Amy.

Mark's crazy lockdown antics have developed a big following on social media and plenty of positive reaction — but behind it all there is a serious message.

“I really hope the videos have helped to spread a little sunshine in these strange times,” he said.

“But I also hope the message of the challenge has helped. In my mind, not only people with life-threatening mental illness need to reach out, but anyone feeling stressed, anxious or depressed at any level must understand that these problems always feel better when shared.”

Mark said at the start of April he was left wondering how, as director of Graham Hill Eyecare, he was going to support his 14 staff through the difficult lockdown period.

“We remained open for emergency services only, and I didn't work for the first few weeks while I was trying to come up with strategies on how to manage the business,” he said.

He said he was inspired by conversations with community members and colleagues, and by the positive energy of his workplace team.

As an optometrist, Mark said he had seen a significant increase in stress-related eye conditions such as cold sores and styes, headaches and tired eyes.

“These people are reaching out for reassurance in a tough world, and it's been invigorating to do our part professionally to help people with these challenges,” he said.

His push-up journey was made all the more personal by Amy's brush with breast cancer last year.

“Over that period, the support we received from each other and from close friends was essential,” Mark said.

“Fortunately we've been lucky in that Amy had very positive results all the way through.”

Now that his push-up challenge is finished, Mark said he was up for a big rest. But as anyone in show business knows — it's not over until it's over.

“Who knows — I might try for another 25 videos next year,” he said.

● To watch Mark DePaola's push-up challenge videos go to