“Tower Up!” That was the rallying cry yesterday. About 2,500 of us met at Chicago’s Willis Tower and climbed 103 flights. Some of us used hand-cycles, some used canes or were tethered to other people. We walked, ran, and even crawled up.

At the Willis Tower SkyDeck, after our climb.

The climb was to raise money for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. I got involved when my trainer started organizing a team to participate in the climb. Since I’d just finished the half-marathon and apparently having an “event” to prep for helps me stay focused on my work outs, I signed up.

There were 15 people on the Northwest Community Hospital’s Wellness Center team. For the past several weeks we had training sessions on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings.

Our team was a group of great people. Working moms, a retiree who visits disaster areas as a Salvation Army volunteer, personal trainers, married couples, successful career women and me. Training with them was so much fun, cracking jokes, pushing each other, and having heart to hearts.

Sunday morning I nervously headed downtown solo, as Hubby was out of town for a boys weekend. After arriving at Sears Tower (it will always be Sears to me, not Willis.) I saw the hand cyclers. People who were on paralympics-like stationary bikes facing a huge screen that showed each person’s progress.

Wow. They were sweating, arms spinning, machines whirring with determination to tackle the tower. Behind them, family members, friends and RIC employees cheered.

I took a moment to scan the lobby. I saw a couple blind people stretching, apparently preparing for the climb, teams of 20 and 30 with matching T-shirts, and sprinkled throughout were regular Joes getting geared up to Tower Up.

All too soon, it was our team’s turn to go. The first few flights were good, then I got hot. Around flight 20, I said aloud: “This is harder than I thought.” I turned up Nicki Minaj and pulled the bill of my hat down. I didn’t want to see what floor I was on, so wore a hat to hide the numbers.

Really, all I wanted to know was when I hit 103. Gray stairs, gray stairs, gray stairs, don’t trip, gray stairs, gray stairs, it’s hot, gray stairs, gray stairs, why did I sign up for this? Gray stairs, gray stairs, gray stairs.

There’s always a point in every race where I question myself. Why did I think I could do this? Can I do this? Is it almost over? Then I thought to Kathy Pacholski. A woman I met while doing a story on the climb for The Huffington Post. She had a stroke 15 months ago and today she was in this stairwell.

She was super excited to Tower Up, I needed to buck up and get busy. Soon I saw an older black man resting mid-flight. I clapped him on the back and smiled. He needed the encouragement. Then I saw an exhausted firefighter in full gear taking a pause to catch his breath.

I nudged my hat up a bit. Maybe I should look at more than these gray stairs. On each flight, there were climb volunteers cheering you on, fanning you with supportive signs. My favorite was “103? Easy.”

But it wasn’t easy. At least not for me. I was struggling more than I thought. My legs felt fine, I was having trouble catching my breath. At Floor 66, I stepped into the heavenly cool hallway, used my inhaler and poured water on my head. That. Was awesome.

I felt much better, I should have used that damn inhaler earlier. I passed a guy with a cane and long pants.

There was also a blonde woman with a splotchy red face who was crawling like Mowgli in the Jungle Book. I gave her an encouraging smile.

I saw the sign for floor 100. Only three more flights! I sped up a bit. Once I hit 103, I walked through the door to thunderous applause and the bright lights from the Skydeck. I felt dazed, a gentleman showed me where to pick up my medal. I received it from a young girl in a wheelchair who told me her name was Bridgette. I felt special. Thank you Bridgette.

My new tradition: A post-race martini.

After 31 minutes and 58 seconds. I had climbed 2,109 stairs.

I met up with my teammates, we swapped stories of our climb, took pictures on the SkyDeck’s ledge and later went out for drinks.

For the rest of the day I kept thinking about how lucky we all are to be able to scale the nation’s tallest skyscraper. Tower Up.



Tower Up: Our Climb Up Chicago’s Willis Tower — 21 Comments

  1. I’m so proud of you! congratulations on scaling the tower, and I’m glad to have heard your story. I felt like I was running with you, seeing you lift the bill of your hat, inhale the coolness in the hallway and pour water over your head, great sensory detail. Great emotional content, too, making connections with others in the lobby, the stairwell, and the skydeck.

    Way to go!!

    • Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed the read. Like all races, it was emotional. I really believe that everyone should “compete” or participate, rather, in an event like this. It’s such a good soul-builder. When you challenge yourself, you stretch as a person, there’s unity in grinding it out to the same goal, oh I could go on and on and on. So in writing about it, I try to put people there, so they could possibly get a snippet of the greatness of such events. 🙂

  2. OMGosh! You are a wonder woman. That is amazing. I’m not sure I could do that at all.

    One time our office building in downtown Houston had to be evacuated (thankfully I was out that day), and they all had to go down 26 flights of stairs. My Senior Manager was so sore the next day he didn’t come into work.

    • I don’t know that I’m Wonder Woman, but thanks. (Admittedly I’d like to look like a hot piece of a*s in those blue spanks, but alas…) The key to these kinds of things is the training. You build up endurance and it’s manageable. Going down 26 flights of stairs with no preparation would be the epitome of not fun.

  3. I’m so glad you had such a good experience climbing.. I was volunteering in floor 47… trying to cheer up and air you guys with the fans/signs… I felt really inspired by all the climbers.. I really think I might do the climb someday… Thank you for being there… 🙂 <3

    • HI!!! Thanks for being a volunteer. I can’t say I remember floor 47 as I was still avoiding seeing the numbers at that point, but you volunteers were wonderful. I loved how you would fan us, especially once we passed you and you fanned our backs. Ahhhhh that was divine.
      You should TOTALLY do it next year. Don’t wait for some day, make it 2012. You can do it, it’s all in the training and prep work. You. Can. Do. It. Think about all those people who were using canes, ropes, etc. to get up those stairs. Oh and the firefighters with that heavy, heavy equipment. You can do this. You’ll be so proud of yourself when you do. (Notice I said when!)


  4. Great Job! Your exercise posst have been motivating me to get my butt in gear! You are inspiring physically & mentally.
    Thanks for being a great leader for those near & far…and those adorable boys.

    • Wow, how incredibly sweet! That’s so nice! I’m glad I can help with the motivation. I find it hard to get motivated some days, so blogging about it makes me feel like I’m being held accountable in some sort of way. Also, I find that when I’m physically active, mentally I’m able to accomplish so much more. It’s like exercising clears out some of the cobwebs and dark corners. 🙂

    • Now wait a minute… Are you being sarcastic? I know you, you have a penchant for doing that. 😉 Kidding. Thanks for the congrats and happy you feel inspired! What’d you end up doing with that inspiration?

  5. Pingback: An Inspiration to Change: Kathy Pacholski | She's Write

    • Thanks bud. I gotta say I was impressed with how much my knees crackled in the days afterward. What’s up with your body becoming a musical instrument when you get older? Snap, crackle, pop, bing, ping, pow. Ow.

  6. Melanie
    Very Impressive! Way to go!
    I too am a stroke survivor. My stroke occurred a month after Kathy. I actually met Kathy, by accident, in a hair salon. We were probably 5 and 6 months post stroke at that time. I saw her come in and immediately identified with her appearance. I’m thrilled to know she’s doing so well. I have thought of her often.
    I have created an online stroke support group to help us younger moms (my youngest was 7 years old) cope and support one another during our recoveries – be it stroke or any other type of illness.
    Thank you for you story and Kathy’s. You’re both such inspirations!

    • Wow! Thanks for the kind words and you are an inspiration yourself being a stroke survivor. Since Kathy was so kind to let me into her life, I’m a lot more aware of challenges that stroke survivors have and grinding your way through rehab is an amazing accomplishment and takes a strong spirit, so my hat’s off to you. I’m going to check out your blog, it sounds like a great resource! Thank you for stopping by my blog.

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