Hand-Drawn Inspiration in the Stairwell

Look, it’s the headless stairclimber!


Here’s the original image:


My friend Jeff took it, near the top of my 15th (and second-to-last!) climb during the San Diego TOWERthon, and as you can see, only minimal photoshop was needed. I get sore just looking at this photo. I’m clearly so tired I can’t even hold my head up, but look… still double-stepping!

This post, though, isn’t about me or the position of head. It’s actually about the sign on the wall behind me.


“Think about how far you’ve come TODAY and how much farther you’ll go TOMORROW!”

The San Diego TOWERthon is a two-hour stair climb race (although, while doing it, it seems never-ending). I’m not gonna rehash all the details – you can read all about it (and see lots of photos) here.

Stairwells are ugly, repetitive, and monotonous. I climbed that 20-story stairwell 16 times during the TOWERthon. You definitely don’t do stair racing for the view! (Unless, of course, you end up on the roof or a top floor with window access.)

My point is that while I was in that stairwell, I looked at everything I could that was unique, different, or special, because it broke up the monotony. So I found myself fixated on signs, like the one above. There were a bunch, spread out on many landings, and as motivational tools, they worked.

Some had a simple message, like this one:


And yet, in the second half of racing, when everything’s hurting and my brain is sending every message it can to stop, a reminder like that came in handy.

One of the signs, on the 4th floor landing, made me think.


I wasn’t gonna stop on any one climb to figure this one out, but after passing it on a bunch of climbs, I realized that the key is reading the final line of the equation as you would a text. Therefore, “i<3U” becomes “I love you” as “<3” is a common shortcut for the word “love”, because it looks like a heart on its side. Whether or not the math checks out… well, I’ll leave that to a mathematician.

Confession time – this one made me cry:


Every time I passed it I tried to read one of the messages in the woman’s hair. I was incredibly exhausted, after probably nearly a dozen times, when I read “I am not a failure” – and the tears started flowing. I thought about how many times in my life I’ve thought the opposite – or said it outright, in the mirror. Then thought about how doing this very race – the most strenuous physical activity I’ve ever done in my life – confirms what the sign says. I’ve taken control of my health. I’ve accomplished things I never dreamed were possible. I am NOT a failure.

One sign made me laugh, and since it was on the landing between the 17th and 18th floor, it was a nice landmark that indicated there were only 5 flights (2.5 floors) to go!


That’s a good rule of thumb for all parts of your life: Don’t let the zombies eat you!

This race benefited Toussaint Academy, the only long-term residential program for homeless teens in San Diego. I learned after the race that all the signs in the stairwell were made by the teens at Toussaint Academy. Most of the teens were at the race, too, either climbing or volunteering. Thanks, everyone, for making the signs. It’s a long, hard morning, and those signs made a huge difference.

I want to wrap this up by thanking everyone for reaching out after my last post with so many incredible messages of love, support, perspective, and understanding. Your words helped me get through a really tough week. I’m still flooded with memories of Maude all the time, but they’re starting to make me smile, as opposed to making me bawl, and I’m thankful for that.

Maude’s passing inspired a change in my travel plans. I had been planning a road trip for me and her, but I couldn’t bear the thought of going all that way with an empty backseat. I also didn’t want to stay in my home – too many sad memories at the moment – so two days after she died, I got on a plane and left town. I’ll share more about my present location, and some new health initiatives I’m taking, in my next post.

Keep it up, David!


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3 Responses to Hand-Drawn Inspiration in the Stairwell

  1. Charlotte Cavaluzzi says:

    Your last stair climb was for such a wonderful cause. I loved the signs along the way. What an inspiration! Sending thoughts of comfort for you, to continue to guide you since the loss of sweet Maude. ❤️

  2. Dana says:

    David reading this post made me cry, not sure why, just going through some stuff and this post resonated with me. Just want to say thanks so very much for being such an inspiration!!

    • David says:

      I’m honored that you’ve been a reader for so long, Dana, and believe me – however emotional you were reading it, it didn’t compare to being in that stairwell for 2 hours! 🙂

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