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  • Writer's pictureSally Kalksma

Stepping Up Together

Perhaps some good will come out of all this social distancing. We can use this time to reconnect with those closest to us by spending quality time together. Whether it’s doing projects around the house, binge-watching TV, or getting to know new things about a loved one through conversations or engaging in a hobby of theirs you never tried.

A week before events being postponed due to COVID-19 I had the pleasure of sharing my love of stair climbing with my teammates, family members, and friends. Two of which never participated in a Tower race before. Before the race, we anxiously conversed about strategies. When the race was over we happily discussed our adventure. I was thrilled to have had this experience with them.

There is a bond in sports, and stair climbing is no different. Just like wanting to share your love for a game of catch, stairclimbers want to share their affection for running up stairs. People from all over the world participate in the sport of competitive stair climbing and I have had the pleasure of meeting so many of them. I am lucky to have forged many strong friendships as well. They are my “step siblings”.

Ask anyone who considers themselves a “stair climber” what the best part of the race is, and chances are their response will be the camaraderie. I doubt too many “tower runners” will say it’s the dusty gray stairwell, the grimy handrails, the stale air, or the pain that starts setting in by the 7th floor but, you never know! To me, the only thing better than the high you get from finishing a grueling race and looking out the window at cars mimicking ants is commiserating with other finishers.

Understandably, not all my friends and family feel the same love for stair climbing as I do. However, with some enthusiastic convincing, some of my peeps have tried this sport with me and now they are hooked! Others have joined me and said “one and done”, but still support me just the same.

When I started to do competitive stair climbing, one of my closest friends and native New Yorker, Linda, helped me gain access to stairwells all over Manhattan to train in. Being the good friend that she is, she would accompany me to my workouts and hold my belongings while I climbed. Believe it or not, there’s no locker room for stair climbers!

After a year of being my equipment manager, Linda became one of the first friends I talked into training with me. She was hooked until her first race: a double climb in Wilmington, Delaware. After her first ascent, she said she couldn’t do it again. My inner coach came out and I gave her a pep talk. Actually, I just yelled at her, but since then she has participated in the Empire State Building Run-Up four times, The Willis (Sears Tower) twice, the Freedom Tower, the CN Tower, The Stratosphere in Las Vegas, as well as dozens of other races up iconic skyscrapers. You can just imagine what I screamed at her that day she almost gave up.

At a tower race last week in Baltimore I captured another 3rd place overall. I was so excited to share this moment not only with my Step Siblings but also with my family and friends, as both teammates and spectators. When I did this same race last year, my daughter and her husband came to cheer me on. This tower climb in Baltimore is one of the rare races where spectators are allowed at the finish and be intimately part of the camaraderie of stair climbing. When I got to the top my son in law said he could have done that race. I held the Division 1, four-year football starter to his word and had him join my team for 2020. Yes, he and I now share a special bond!

My son-in-law wasn’t the only rookie last week. My boyfriend also took a huge leap outside of his comfort zone to experience what my love of stair climbing really is about. I believe that sharing interests is an important part of any relationship. He is one of my biggest fans who now has a greater appreciation and understanding of what I do.

Throughout my professional tower running career, I have asked five other family members to try my beloved sport with me, one of which was my sister, JoAnne. Not only did Jo complete a 52 story race, she did it wearing 20 pounds of firefighter gear! That extra weight may be the reason why she doesn’t want to participate in another race though...

Perhaps one of my proudest and most precious moments in stair climbing came when my daughter, Dana, took my spot at the Empire State Building Run-Up in 2017. I had to defer that year because my autologous stem cell transplant was scheduled for the next day. Dana took 1st in her division, 2nd in her age group and was 14th overall. This wasn’t her first time participating in the most prestigious stair climb in the world, and it wouldn’t be her last. She has competed in several other tower races as well, all of which she tells me is her last. I never believe her though because her boyfriend also enjoys towerrunning!

Sports are not all about competition and testing your athletic abilities. You should have fun, connect with others, and make great memories. Try sharing your passion for sports, the arts or any hobby during this pandemic. Mutual interests can strengthen your relationships, and bring people closer together. Can you make something good come out of this trying time?

My boyfriend, Linda, Myself, and My son-in-law

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