My whirlwind experience with the Fight for Air Climb: Buffalo

Everything was a whirlwind. Before I knew it, I was at the top of of 26 flights of stairs — 470 total. I’m not sure I got there very fast. It didn’t feel very fast. But I got there. And how I got there was as important as anything else about this story.

It starts on a cold February day at one of my favorite races, the Lockport Y-10. It’s my hometown race and a challenging one that’s 10 miles with hills and open road. Oh and it’s in February in Western New York. The weather usually stinks. But this isn’t a story about a 10-mile road race. It’s about a stair climb.

Before the start of the race I told my friend Sue. I hadn’t told many people. We weren’t broadcasting the news or posting information on Facebook. The smaller we kept it, the easier it was to deal with. My mom, who had suffered from lung disease for a few  years, now had a diagnosis of early stage lung cancer.

“I’m going to run the stairs for her,” Sue said, explaining she had joined a team of runners to participate in the Fight For Air Climb in Buffalo in March. She invited me to join them. I was in. I was all in. Within 24 hours I had joined my friend’s team and registered for the event.

Then I looked more closely at my work schedule.

The event started on Saturday at 8:30 a.m. I was covering the Buffalo Sabres vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets in Columbus on Friday night. Five hours away.

Uh-oh.

Determined to figure out how to make this work, I emailed one of the organizers and explained my situation. I really wanted to do this event. I wanted to do this event more than any other I’ve ever done. I’ve trained longer and harder for other events. I’ve raised money for other great causes, causes I believe in and support with my whole heart. But this? This was personal.

Turns out it would be no problem for me to slip in later in the climb, as long as I got there before the end. So how to make sure I got there in time to actually climb?

I woke up at 4 a.m. Saturday and was on the road by 4:30. Cruise control was my friend and coffee was my magic elixir. I kept my friend Sue updated on my travel. My team (WNY Diamond Cutters) had an early climb time but some of them stayed, including Sue and Team Captain Heather.

It was about 9:30 when I arrived at Main Place Tower and pulled into the underground parking lot, frantically looking for a parking space. I found one and bolted to the elevators. Once in the lobby Sue saw me and rushed over.

I MADE IT! I MADE IT!

Seems that getting to the event was the actual achievement for me. When Sue brought me to Team Captain Heather I was jumping up and down again.

I MADE IT! I MADE IT!

She was jumping and yelling, too. Clearly we’re going to be BFFs.

While standing in the registration line to pick up my bib I spotted my parents across the lobby. “Sue! There’s my Dad!”  (My adrenaline was running very high.)

“I’ve got them!” she said and ran over to corral my parents.

The next five minutes was a whirlwind.

Got your bib? Ok. Here’s your team singlet. Stuff all your belongings into your bag. Let’s find the bathroom. (Full disclosure: I had to pee like a race horse.) Now we’ll get you line. Talk to that guy. Hey sir! She’s late and needs to slide in. No problem. Step in here.

I stood behind a woman in a purple shirt. She asked if I wanted to go ahead of her. I politely declined. She had a monotone face. She kept trying to insist that I go ahead of her.

“Are you elite? You look elite,” she said.

Flattered, I told her no, I’m not elite. And off she went.

I had 40 seconds until it was time to take off. Damn, I wish I had taken the time to tighten my shoelaces. AND GO!

I ran up the first three flights. This was a sprint event. I’m an endurance junkie. This was out of my comfort zone. I was working on about four hours of sleep and had just driven five hours. My only warmup was jumping up and down when I met Team Captain Heather.

My run turned into a power walk and I was totally fine with that decision. Because it was still hard. My legs were ok, but my lungs were burning. Which is part of the point the American Lung Association is trying to make.

Volunteers were at nearly every landing with cowbells, high-fives and encouragement. I saw people of all walks of life in that stairwell. There were people with camelbacks, slowly making their way up to the top, sweating and breathing hard. There were people running. There were people walking. Old. Young. All levels of fitness. All making their way up, one stair at a time.

I thought of my mom who is not able to climb these stairs. I thought of how brave she is, how she has to fight with her own lungs every day. How she refuses to let her lung disease keep her from living life. It may take her longer to do something, longer to get somewhere. But it won’t stop her.

Finally, there’s an upside to our family motto: Stubbornness is the Moritz Way.

Sue and Heather took the elevator to the 26th floor, sneaking my parents up with them to see me finish. I came through the doorway in triumph, giving high-fives to everyone.

I still have no idea what my time was. Nor am I all that concerned. The takeaways from this event far exceed any athletic performance.

  • A well-organized event with chaotic energy (or maybe it was just me as part of the one-person Team No Sleep), I was proud to be part of raising money for the American Lung Association. A great big THANK YOU to my friends and family who helped me raise $621.
  • I was reminded how fortunate I am to be healthy and fit — able to do a stair climb without any specific training. Able to climb stairs at all.
  • I was able, I hope, to honor my mom and her determination to continue to do the things she loves most.

I do want to find out my time eventually, so I can try to beat it next year. I’m thinking of forming a team for the Buffalo climb named Team No Sleep. Who’s with me?

%d bloggers like this: