Participants take stairs for those who cannot

By J_Howard

Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, is most notable for being the tallest building in the United States. It is also home to the SkyRise Chicago climb, where participants walk, run or skip up the stairs of the tower’s 103 floors.

In its second year, SkyRise Chicago had more than 2,500 climbers participate in the event on Nov. 14. All proceeds went to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where those with traumatic, life-changing injuries are cared for and treated.

The race up the tower started at 7 a.m. Upbeat music echoed through the Willis Tower lobby as participants lined up to climb all 2,109 stairs and a handcycle simulation race for those who were unable to run up the stairs. Handcycle participants were stationed on the ground floor, and special equipment tracked their time and place as if they were climbing the tower.

“It’s the only inclusive event of its kind,” said Mitch Carr, associate director of RIC. “We have a handcycle wheel, so if you are an individual who is in a wheelchair and can’t climb the stairwell, we give the same opportunity in a realistic way right on the ground floor, right by the start line.”

Patrick Byrne, a handcycle racer with World Sports Chicago, took part in the SkyRise Chicago challenge and prepared for the race with RIC.

“I started off strong, coming through to the end, [but] I didn’t train the way I should’ve trained for it,” Byrne said. “It was fantastic to just come out and be part of it. It is a wonderful fundraiser for us, that is what it’s all about.”

Carr said the goal was set at getting 2,050 climbers registered and raising $1 million. As of press time, RIC was still calculating the figures and Carr said he thinks the goal was surpassed.

“Our mission is we are advancing human ability,” he said. “While rehabilitation is a process, we know when we see a patient [that] we are advancing their ability and providing them a better quality of life. We also do that through research and technology, and funding [from the event] will go directly to help support that.”

In a large crowd of people in workout attire, it was easy to spot Steve Coover, captain of the Bloomington, Ind., Fire Department. He made it to the top of the tower in full firefighter gear, dedicating his climb to the 343 firefighters who died on 9/11 and motivating firefighters to stay in shape.

“About floor 75, I needed to cool off a bit,” Coover said. “But it’s always a blast up at the top, everyone is so nice. There are some other firefighters here, and this is the only time I get to see them during the year.”

At the starting line, Salt Lake City resident Derek Bumrungsiri, 32, said he was feeling nervous about the climb. He wanted to beat the 45-minute average time.

“[The Willis Tower is] 103 stories,” Bumrungsiri said. “We don’t have buildings like this in Salt Lake City. I’ve been at the gym almost every day [using the] stair climb, treadmill and elliptical.”

Though being in shape is important for the climb, Kirsten Fish, women’s board manager for RIC, said it is also a mental challenge.

“I started off and I was getting a little ahead of myself, thinking I was farther along than I was,” Fish said. “[I realized] I was just on floor 16, I knew I had to mentally prepare myself.”

Fish said signs during the climb helped show how high the Willis Tower climbers were in comparison to other monuments, such as the pyramids and the Eiffel Tower. After facing the mental challenge, she said the trick is to start slowly.

“That was really motivating to think I was that high, and I could keep going,” Fish said. “It is not as tough as you think. It’s a great feeling to be done.  Anyone can do it.”