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Mass Hy-STAIR-ia: Intouchers Climb Stairs to Support CF

Intouch Team

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You know that feeling when the elevator is out and you have to wheeze your way up lots of flights of stairs instead? That’s fun, right? Yeah, we didn’t think so either. At first. Even though climbing stairs doesn’t always sound like great fun, when Account Director Ryan Clark suggested we take on 58 flights of stairs in support of cystic fibrosis research, Intouch Chicago rose (get it?!) to the challenge. Every year, the Greater Illinois Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation sponsors the CF Climb for Life, a challenge to climb 58 floors in honor of those affected by the disease.

Our Chicago office supports several clients who provide treatment for cystic fibrosis (CF). It is a life-threatening genetic disease that affects the lungs and, sometimes, the digestive system. With CF, the body produces unusually thick mucus in the lungs, drastically reducing breathing capacity. It also causes life-threatening infections. Though the life expectancy for someone with CF has greatly increased in recent decades — often patients are living into their 30s now — it is still cut far too short. In spite of the worthy cause, the idea of the climb still seemed daunting at first. (Personally, I get a little winded climbing the two flights out of the subway in the morning.) And 58 flights! I couldn’t even fathom what that would be like or how long the agony would last.

Would I even be able to walk the next day? Plus, the building we were going to climb was actually visible from one side of our office on Michigan Avenue. Seeing it yawning up into the stratosphere, in no way dwarfed by all the other skyscrapers, didn’t make it look any easier. Several of us even practiced to feel more prepared. The big day arrived. On a cold and rainy Sunday morning, a team of 11 dedicated Chicago Intouchers gathered in the lobby of the giant building we were to climb. In spite of the early rise-time, the nerves and the enormity of the task we were undertaking, the excitement in the air was palpable. The CF Climb is a big event, filled with enthusiastic volunteers and climbers of all ages. We readied ourselves with stretching, breakfast and team pictures. And then, it was time. We took our place in the big line that led to the stairwell. It moved slowly, and when we got to the front, we saw it was because an official with a stopwatch was spacing us out. We each started individually, and many of us kept that spacing all the way up.

The first couple flights were easy. This is a thing you do all the time! No big deal! Some people even chose to run them. Unfortunately, this didn’t last long. Around ten flights up, the legs start feeling a little jello-y, and the lungs tighten. Breathing becomes more difficult; sweat starts pouring; and there are still many, many flights to go. Eventually, you find your stride, fall into the rhythm that carries you higher, but finding the air to make a last push for those final floors induces renewed panting. When the end times were posted, it turned out that everyone on the team finished in under 19 minutes. Nineteen? That was it? All those stairs, all that panting, all that apprehension, all for less time than it takes to watch an episode of a sitcom on Netflix. In the end, I think we all had a great experience with the CF Climb for Life. It was a unique personal challenge, and it was satisfying to be part of such a worthy cause. And, in case you are inspired to participate in a climb yourself, we’d like to share what we learned along the way. Collective wisdom from the Intouch CF Climbers:

  1. The handrails are your friends.
  2. Slow and steady wins (or, at least, guarantees finishing) the race.
  3. Don’t stay out until 2 AM the night before.
  4. Climbing stairs can be fun.
  5. Eating a large brunch afterward, complete with Bloody Marys or mimosas, is essential.
  6. There are people who do things like this professionally. That means they are climbing stairs ALL THE TIME. They’re called "Elite Climbers," and they climb by holding the handrails and taking the stairs two at a time. Even though this sounds a bit like cheating to me, it does help them fly up the stairs. A member of this group posted the winning time for climbing all 58 flights: seven minutes. (Seven!)
  7. According to research by the CF Foundation, people with CF often breathe with lungs that are only working at 30% capacity of that of a healthy person. If the struggle to breathe after climbing stairs is even a slight indication of what living with CF feels like every day, we will continue to support this cause until no one has to suffer again.

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