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Bruney breaks bricks with his fist. Years ago, Bruney saw someone breaking bricks in a show and decided to try it.

Testing human limits

Motivational speaker uses stunts to get message out

Courtesy photos
Jon Bruney uses many strength-displaying stunts to share his message, whether in a Christian setting or not.

– Jon Bruney is not your father’s motivational speaker, unless your father is fond of taking on gravity with his stomach.

Oh, and breaking a pile of flaming bricks with his bare hands. Your dad does that, right?

Bruney does, and a whole lot more, too. Once upon a time, he and his mentor, North Carolina strongman John Brookfield, pulled a semi a mile, setting a record. He’s laid under a bed of nails while his wife jump-roped on top of it, a stunt that got the two of them a mention from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

And the gravity-vs.-stomach bit?

This happens when Bruney lies beneath a ladder while his wife drops a bowling ball on his midsection from 7 or 8 feet up.

“That’s a little unusual,” Bruney says.

It’s also just a part of life itself for a man who’s never hung out much with the ordinary. In addition to breaking bricks (flaming and otherwise) and pulling semis and stopping bowling balls with his gut, Bruney, 41, and a native of Fremont, is a pastor. He’s helped train the U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling team. He’s worked with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on various strength and conditioning techniques.

And then there’s Pressing the Limits, the motivational speaking business that, across the last 10 or 11 years, has taken Bruney to schools and churches and festivals and subjected him to, well, more interesting stuff than that poser who does the TV commercials, the alleged Most Interesting Man in the World.

“The most unusual thing I’ve ever done in a program, and we don’t get to do it very often in a program because it’s so expensive, is they hook up a couple of Harley-Davidsons, one to each arm,” Bruney says. “Then they let ’em take off with a burnout where I just resist the pull.

“That’s my personal favorite stunt of all time. Unfortunately it tends to tear up the bikes.”

So how’d he get into all this?

Well, pain was involved, not surprisingly. One day Bruney, who played football and wrestled in high school, saw someone breaking bricks in a show and decided to try it.

He succeeded. He also hurt himself.

“Very badly,” Bruney says.

After that he started to read and train, and then he met Brookfield, who took him under his wing, and all these years later it’s become, through Pressing the Limits, as much a calling as anything else.

“I found I had a real passion for this style of performance, because it was so motivational to people,” Bruney says. “It allowed us to get into the schools and encourage them in their ISTEP testing, and got us involved in the anti-drug campaign, you name it. It just kind of resonates with people.”

And the message varies, depending on the audience. With church groups it’s more evangelical; Bruney will take a nail and drive it through a board with his hand as a reminder of “what Jesus did on the cross for us.” At schools and festivals, on the other hand, it’s more about encouraging people to, yes, press the limits of what they think is possible.

“Each one of the stunts tells a story,” Bruney says. “Whether it’s breaking bricks and talking about how people need a breakthrough in their lives, or breaking a drill bit with my hands and talking about how that thing that’s been poking at you and trying to destroy you can be broken.

“It just depends on the group that brings us in. The group that brings us in really dictates the message.”