A Cheesy, Sappy (and True!) Open Letter to My Stair-Climbing Friends

Dear Friends (you know who you are),

Me and Mark.

Me and Mark.

Sometimes when I stand at the bottom of a skyscraper’s stairwell, I can’t help but wonder: What the hell have I gotten myself into? As you all know, racing up dozens of flights of stairs is no easy feat. It’s difficult. Grueling. Exhausting. Punishing. Yet somehow I’ve slowly become a guy that analyzes past performances and plans for future races. A guy that’s dedicated to training and preparation. In broader terms, I’ve embraced an excitement and enthusiasm for a sport that I’ve never had before… and lately, the question on my mind has been: WHY?

Jeff and Me.

Jeff and Me.

I grew up playing sports: four years of soccer, two years playing water polo, and eight years as a competitive swimmer. I never much liked the team sport environment, mainly because, thanks to my size and lack of ability, I always saw myself as a detriment to the team. I enjoyed swimming more, because it wasn’t a contact sport and I was racing as much against the clock as I was against the thinner, faster guys in the lanes next to me, but I don’t recall swimming ever eliciting the same feelings of pride and anticipation that I feel now about stairs.

Tommy, Madeleine, Cindy, and Me.

Tommy, Madeleine, Cindy, and Me.

This shift from merely enduring a sport to becoming passionate about one can surely be traced to the much larger shift I’m implemented in my life in the past few years. To go from over 400 pounds to the 240s (and to keep that amount of weight off) requires a lot of determination and even more hard work, and I’ve discovered during this process that I’m much more physically able than I ever thought I could be. I’ve done a 5k race, and a few 10ks. I’ve done an open water swim race in the Pacific Ocean. I’ve tried kayaking and paintball, and even ice skating (which wasn’t pretty – and there’s videotape to prove it). And yet stair racing, arguably the most challenging, taxing activity of all these, was the one that stuck. It’s the one that has me scouring race results and seeking out new places to train. Which brings me back to my original question: WHY?

The West Coast Labels team in San Diego.

The West Coast Labels team in San Diego.

The answer is simple: It’s because of you. Because I have met the most friendly, encouraging, supportive and motivating group of people, including you, and that list continues to grow. It began at my first race, with a chance encounter with Mark Trahanovsky in the elevator on the way down from the roof. At subsequent races, he began introducing me to other members on his West Coast Labels team, and before I knew it, I was a member of that team myself. I was one of you. Every single one of you that I’ve met has been kind, gracious, and welcoming. I’ve become a member of a club that I never knew existed.

Lisa, Me, and Jane.

Lisa, Me, and Jane.

And here’s the kicker: this circle of friends includes many of the top, elite climbers in this sport. I find it crazy that I can look at race results and see so many names that I recognize at the top of the list. It’s ridiculously inspiring when I see, again and again, our friends win their age group, or claim a medal as one of the top three overall finishers, or move up a spot in the national (and international) rankings. Knowing the champions in a sport puts a human face on what can be otherworldly accomplishments (scaling a 75-story stairwell in 9:27? C’mon!) and… ohmigod, you know who I am! You smile when you see me! You ask about my race!

West Coast Labels at Hike the Halo (Angel Stadium).

West Coast Labels at Hike the Halo (Angel Stadium).

Even more, I’ve become a better, stronger racer because of you. So many of you have offered tips and guidance. I get to hear how you achieved a new personal best (which is helpful), and how you persevere when you’re having an off-day (which is even more helpful). Knowing that I can turn to the brightest, most successful people in this sport when I have questions about footwork or handrails or pacing or landings just blows my mind. After all, how many basketball players can get tips from Kobe Bryant? How many swimmers can train with Michael Phelps? How many golfers can get adultery advice from Tiger Woods?

Me and Veronica goofing off in a stairwell.

Me and Veronica goofing off in a stairwell.

One of the reasons I look forward to race days is because I know I’ll get to see so many of you. (I’m not going to name names because I know I’ll forget someone.) There’s a camaraderie and bond that’s utterly genuine. I get excited to race not only to beat my own goals, but to show you what I’m capable of, and you’ll get as excited as I do, because you’re familiar with the pain, the mental roadblocks, and that terrible moment when your tank feels empty and there’s still 18 floors to go.

Nelson and Me.

Nelson and Me.

I’m not an elite climber, and I probably won’t ever make it to that level. That’s not a disparaging comment, it’s a fact. I only mention it because with this group of friends, it just doesn’t matter. You guys have never let me think that I’m nothing less than a star, and even though that may sound silly, it’s a big, huge deal for someone who was only familiar with feelings of physical inadequacy. I finish these races in the middle of the pack, and from you, I get louder cheers than I could ever hope for.

I am so very proud of my accomplishments in this sport. My times are improving, as is my form and technique. It’s a joy to share with others that I can race up a 63-story building and make it to the roof in just over 15 minutes, because that fact is nothing less than staggering. In the past two months, I’ve jumped in the U.S. Amateur Rankings from the 1400s to #585 to #527 to #468, my current – and highest – rank (among all males, over 16,000 total). I will gladly take ownership of these successes, but I want all of you to know this:

It is because of your spirit, your inspiration, your kindness, and your creation of an affirming, inclusive community that I continue to race. I feel so lucky to have met Mark in that elevator that day, so grateful to have subsequently met all of you, and so honored that I can call you my friend.

See you at the next race, and…


I’ll do the same:


*The photos don’t include everyone that this post is written about. Just some examples!

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4 Responses to A Cheesy, Sappy (and True!) Open Letter to My Stair-Climbing Friends

  1. Dot2Trot says:

    That’s awesome and great perspective. Also it’s clear that you love stair-climbing. I don’t think you could be as successful or have made some many great friends without loving the sport!

  2. G.M. Grena says:

    That’s a great photo of Veronica yankin’ your shirt! I’m totally jealous! And by the way, next year at Aon you are SO going sub-14. Just get the # one five out of your head right now dude! Losing weight & keeping it off is way harder than stair-climbing. If you can lose that much weight & keep it off for this long, you are ELITE material! I gained about 10 pounds in the past 2 weeks celebrating the achievement of my personal race goal. It’s a vicious cycle, but I’m going to do whatever it takes to get back in shape for the next race…

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