I typically post about my life with my own kids. Today’s post isn’t a story about my 4 clowns; but, it is indeed a mother’s story.
I have a close friend, Avé, who is one of the funniest people I know.
Fact: Only very fun people wear fuzzy Viking helmets
And she is a Mom. An extraordinary Mom. And her daughter has cystic fibrosis. Ave’s daughter is 8 years old. And strong, and sweet, and pretty and happy. And brave. Avé faces her daughter’s CF with dignity and determination.
At the end of the day, it sucks. Because there’s still no cure.
What do you do when your friend needs your help?
You hope. You hope for a cure. You hope that, with all of the brilliant people on this earth today, just one of them is able, in this little girl’s lifetime, to design the right drug. You hope for a happy ending to her story.
And when you feel like hoping isn’t quite enough…what do you do then?
This is last year’s account of the 24th Annual Wawa Climb for a Cure in which Avé and I participated. I sent this to my family and friends who generously donated to our climb….it is followed by this year’s account of our climb…
Dear Family and Friends,
This morning was the Climb for Cystic Fibrosis to which you all generously donated. I wanted to thank you so much for your support in this event. We climbed the 53 floors of the Mellon Bank Center for a grand total of 1,019 steps to raise money for a cure for CF.
It was HARD! Much harder than I realized it would be. Yesterday I went to the track and ran the bleachers to wake my legs up for today’s climb. I ran 200 steps, 2 at a time in under 5 minutes. And I felt great. I came home and told B&B my strategy for the race was to take the steps 2 at a time until my legs could no longer handle it. In my mind, I hoped that would be around step 800.
So, this morning we lined up in the foyer of the Mellon Bank Center, clad in workout gear. And freezing our tails off from the wind coming out of the open stairwell door. We went up one at a time, in 20 second intervals. I was nervous at the start because I was towards the front and did not want to get passed. Naturally, I threatened my teammates that I would imprint my shoe on their faces if they attempted to pass me on the stairwell.
At 9:21 AM, I got the sign to go. So up I went. I hit the stairs 2 at a time, according to plan. A few times I stretched it to 3 steps at a time. I was flying! My strategy was working! Maybe I would win for my age group!
Until I hit the wall. At floor 5. Of 53. I kid you not, my legs were shaking like Santa’s belly and I was sucking wind before I hit 100 steps. I literally said aloud in the stairwell, “OK, now I am going to walk.” It was a slight jolt to my confidence after yesterday’s test run on the bleachers. I figured I would walk the steps until I got my breathing under control and my heart rate down a little. And then I heard the plodding of someone’s feet coming closer! Oh NO! I was going to get passed! AHHHHH! Was it one of my teammates? Would I have to make good on my threat? Was it the guy in the gray bike shorts who should never have worn those bike shorts? Would I see even more of him than I already had? Please tell me it wasn’t the 80 year old shirtless man in the hot pink running shorts?! I willed my legs to go faster, faster, TAKE THE STEPS TWO AT A TIME BEFORE SOMEONE PASSES YOU!!!! But they didn’t listen. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. Holding onto the railing for dear life. And asking the young girls in sorority sweatshirts at every 3rd floor, “How many floors is this building?” And trying to ignore the shocked looks on their faces when I let out a slew of expletives every time they answered “53! You’re almost there!”
53 bloody floors. Sweet Jesus Almighty, it was horrific. I said that aloud as well. “This is horrific. This was a horrible idea.” I would like to say I thought of Avé’s daughter, who lives with CF, in order to give me the strength to continue up those steps. I didn’t. I just kept thinking, “Get me off of these godforsaken steps, this is a nightmare.”
So, I didn’t take the steps 2 at a time for 80% of the climb. And I did indeed get passed by a guy younger than I was, so I was fairly certain he hadn’t given birth 4 times. I almost said that to him, but opted instead to tell him, “Be my guest, you young whipper snapper”. And I was never able to muster up the energy to attack the steps 2 at a time again. Absolutely impossible for me.
But I was able, with the help of all of you, to raise $ for a wonderful cause!!! I am humbled by everyone’s kind words and generosity. Truly. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
And now, I am going to sit down and put my tired feet up:>)
So that was last year. This year…I got smart.
I am a runner, but my poor feet have been angry at me for the better part of this past year. It could be from the constant, repetitive pounding of my gait. It could be from the cumulative 200+ pounds I’ve gained and lost in 50-60 pound increments in a 7 year time frame. Goddamn kids. Regardless of the reason, I’ve committed to listening to my poor piggy toes. They need to cart my ass around for the next 50 years, and I think I owe them some respect. So I’ve scaled my running miles way back. And gotten jiggy with the strength training.
My favorite 3 letters. I fear them. I love them. It’s a suspension system designed by a Navy SEAL. It’s portable. It’s horrific. My friends are tired of hearing me talk about it. I take a TRX class at my local YMCA. My trainer knows everyone’s name in the class but mine. B&B thinks this a game the trainer plays because he secretly thinks I’m cute. I explain to B&B that I smell like a bad hoagie during class, I am not at all cute when I exercise, and my trainer is approximately 12 years old. No game. He really doesn’t know my name. But it’s still nice to be married to a guy who sees me as the 20 year old with the bodacious tatas. Because I am far from 20. And there is no longer anything bodacious about said tatas.
In addition to the mother of all strength training workouts, I’ve cozied up to the good old fashioned stairmaster. I figure a good way to train for climbing stairs is in fact…wait for it…to climb stairs. That particular style of machine is always available. It’s not fun. And few people are training for this horrific climb, this is clear.
Finally, I’ve added some more bleacher climbs into my training program. No fun. Hard workout, short time period. But effective, I hope, in achieving my goal.
What is my goal? It’s the same goal I have for every race I run. Or in this case, every staircase I climb. It’s a stupid, unrealistic goal, but it’s the same every time.
I want to PR (set a personal record). Preferably without spending the rest of the day on the shitter. Which is typically how my day winds up post-race.
So, here is this year’s account of our stair climb extravaganza…
Dear Friends and Family,
Sunday, I participated in Wawa’s 25th annual Cystic Fibrosis Climb for Life. Thank you all so very much for your support. Every dollar that you donated gives hope to people with CF (and their families) that a cure will be found. Fundraising is not among my favorite activities; but, I found myself humbled by the outpouring of donations and encouragement from this amazing community of people I’m fortunate enough to call friends.
Avé and I have participated in this climb two years in a row. Just like last year, we met halfway between our houses and drove into the city together. During last year’s drive, we laughed, we listened to music, we joked about how fun the climb would be. This year year’s drive had an entirely different temperature. We sweated. We strategized. We swore. Well, I swore, Avé doesn’t swear.
Avé: “This is very important. Are you listening? No sprinting up the stairs at the start this year.”
Me: “OK. No sprinting. Got it. Do we sprint at all? Save the sprint?”
Avé: “See how you feel. But don’t sprint at the start. You’ll be out of juice for the finish.”
Me: “Right. Is it hot in here? I’m sweating. Are you sweating? It’s hot in here.”
I am going to vomit. Why did I sign up for this stupid climb?!
Avé: “I don’t know why we’re doing this stupid climb. I hate this thing. HATE IT!”
Me: “That makes two of us, sister. But we’re raising money for your girl.”
Avé: “Right. We are. We are raising money for a cure for CF. But we are NOT sprinting at the start.”
Me: “Right. Got it. Yes. No sprinting at the start.”
We arrive in Philly, park in the first garage we find (mistake…it was the wrong garage and they raped us with parking fees), and snap what is now the annual picture of the Mellon Bank Center.
53 floors and 1019 steps of sheer torture
Me: Nervous, “Dammit. The building doesn’t look like it’s shrunk since last year.”
Avé: Agreeing, “Not even half a flight.”
We enter the building and immediately see my brother, who’s there to support his wife (my sister-in-law), who, along with a friend of hers, has joined our fundraising team this year. Go, Rachel’s Rebels!! My two young nieces are there as well. It’s an early February morning, and we’d all rather be at home in our pajamas. But my brother and his girls have made the trip to support my sister-in-law and her friend in their efforts to raise money and awareness for a cure for this disease.
We check in and get our black Velcro bands (our timing devices), which we immediately strap to our wrists. Attaching that band to my wrist brought back poignant memories of last year’s climb. I’ve trained a great deal and raced a decent amount in the past eight years (taking time off while I was pregnant with the last two of my four sons). I’m strong and fit, and some days I’m even fast. But last year’s climb remains the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done.
I am going to vomit. Everywhere. Goddamn these stupid stairs.
We mill around. We stash our bags. We discuss our strategy.
Me: “Are you going for two stairs at a time or one?”
Avé: “Well, I timed myself during training. I am significantly faster when I go two at a time. And by significantly faster, I’m talking 20 seconds faster.”
Me: “Ugh. Two at a time is tough on the quads. I don’t know if I can pull that off.”
Avé: “Yes, but we’re going for time, right? Faster to go two at a time.”
Our strategy session is interrupted by a college student, holding a video camera and a microphone.
College student: “Hi! Do you mind if I interview you for Temple University?”
Avé: “No problem. Who’s going to see this?”
She’s a smart one, Avé is. I would never think to ask who’s going to see it.
College student: “Just my class. What’s your name and how old are you?”
Avé: “My name is Avé. Accent on the E. I am 38 years old.”
College Student: “And what brought you down here today?”
Avé: “My 8 year old daughter has cystic fibrosis. I’m here today to raise money for a cure for this disease.”
I have to turn away. Because it’s going to happen any second…I can feel it.
Don’t cry, Bethany.
The brevity of the cause we’re climbing for snaps me back to reality. I have an 8 year old. He doesn’t have CF. Avé has an 8 year old who does. I am here with my amazing friend who needs support…emotional and financial…to find a cure for CF in her daughter’s lifetime.
Stop your moaning, Bethany. And climb the steps.
It’s getting close to start time. We find a corner and warm up. My sister-in-law and her friend will be climbing on a different stairwell. Ours is a timed climb, theirs is not. We wish one another well, and line up with the rest of the lunatics who’ve opted to race.
It’s cold in the lobby, but we know it gets hot in the stairwell. Yes, from our exertion, but specifically, on level 43 it gets excessively hot. (Building maintenance should look into that. Why is it so hot on floors 43 and higher?) I wear a tank top and ¾ length running tights. And black gloves. I am well aware that I look like a fool, but there’s a method to my madness. My hands start out cold, but get sweaty quickly. So, I wear running gloves to keep my hands warm. And they have skid-proof palms so that I can make the best use of the railings on either side of the stairs. I have my iPod this year so that I can listen to music while I climb instead of the sound of my own labored breathing. And footsteps.
Behind us, a guy and girl are talking. We turn to smile at them. He climbed last year as well. He tells us his wife has CF.
Avé: “How long have you been married?”
Nice Guy: “5 years.”
Avé: “And how old is your wife?”
Nice Guy: Smiling, “She’s almost 30. We’re going to have a big party for her 30th. It’s a milestone.”
Avé: Smiling too, “Yes, it is.”
30 is a milestone for all of us. But, for someone living with CF, it’s an entirely different milestone.
There are at least 20 people in line ahead of us. The man directly in front of me is wearing extremely bright salmon colored shorts. They are very short. He is shirtless. He is also easily 80 years old. We remember him well from last year. Someone from the CF foundation approaches him, thanks him for his many years of support, and takes a picture of him.
I put my headphones in. Choose a song that’s five minutes in length, hoping that I’ll be about halfway finished climbing by the song’s end.
I look at Avé. Her lips are moving. I think she’s talking to me. I remove my headphones.
Me: “What’s that?”
Avé: “I said no sprinting at the start. Remember…no sprinting at the start.”
I nod my head as I put my headphones back on. Knowing full well I am going to attack the start. My adrenaline has me poised to explode.
Race day nerves are good for something.
Old man goes up. I’ve got 20 seconds to look at that stairwell before it’s my turn. I hit play on my iPod and let the music get me pumped. Scan my wristband on the timer, hear the beep of the clock starting, and I launch into the stairwell.
“GO, BETHANY!” The only thing I hear over my loud music is the voice of my big brother. I smile.
Three flights up, taking the steps two at a time, I’m on top of the old man with the salmon shorts. As I pass him, I reach out, touch his arm, and smile.
Me: “You’re an inspiration.”
Old man: Smiling, “Thank you, young lady.”
I love when people call me “young lady”. Not so much when they call me “ma’am”.
The first 6 flights I am able to hit every other step while pumping my arms. By flight 7, it’s time to rely on my arms for some assistance. I grab both railings and begin pulling myself, while continuing to take the steps two at a time.
Avé says it’s significantly faster to go two steps at a time. For the love of God, please let those TRX classes have strengthened my quads enough to maintain this pace for the next…how many?…ugh, for the next 47 floors.
Step and pull, step and pull, step and pull, step and pull…
Will you look at that…
Me: “On your left…”
I smile at the 40 something guy as I pass him. He smiles back. We both raise our eyebrows and shake our heads.
This is madness, but we signed up for it.
Step and pull, step and pull, step and pull, step and pull…
Me: “On your left…”
I smile at the 30 something guy as I pass him. He doesn’t smile back.
Yep. I’m a girl. Sorry.
Step and pull, step and pull, step and pull, step and pull…
Me: “On your left…”
I attempt a smile at the 40 something guy as I pass him. But my adrenaline kick is over, and the reality of the remaining 33 floors I’m still facing dampens what remains of my cheery mood. I look at him. He looks at me.
Me: “Wow, this sucks.”
He nods his agreement.
I manage to continue the formula that Avé prescribed…taking two steps at a time. But it gets increasingly difficult as my legs fatigue and my throat feels as if I’ve swallowed a sharp razor blade. Scratch that…a handful of sharp razor blades. The higher we climb, the worse the air quality. The stairwell is dusty. And it adjoins floors whose windows have never once been opened to allow in fresh air.
I am literally gasping for breath.
Jesus God Almighty, who turned the heat on full blast up here?
I see something out of the corner of my eye. Striped shirt coming up the steps with purpose. It’s the chick who was behind Avé at the start. She’s come to hand me my ass. I move to the side to allow her to pass me.
Me: “Awesome job, keep at it.”
Her legs are up to my ears.
I continue to climb higher, trying to maintain my momentum, fighting desperately to ward off the little voice in my head who’s urging me to quit.
It wasn’t this hard last year. I trained for this. I’m stronger. Why does it feel harder this year?
I break stride and take one stairwell one step at a time. I need to give my arms a break so that I can claw at the outside of my throat.
Level 47. Finish this. Two at a time.
I grab the railings and resume my step and pull, step and pull, step and pull.
Me: Whispering, “On your left.”
No glances. No smiles. I am focused only on my completion of this nightmare.
I look blankly at the random stranger standing at level 53.
I can’t talk. Please tell me I’m finished. Please, please, please, please.
Random stranger: Pointing into the adjoining office space, “You’re done! Great job! Get in there and scan your timer!”
I step out of the stairwell, turn to my left and start walking, holding my left arm up to be scanned.
“WRONG WAY!! TURN THE OTHER WAY!”
I claw at my throat, unable to speak aloud the words over the pain I’m feeling. I turn once, twice, a third time, mouthing, “WHERE?” holding my arm up and pointing at my wrist.
Me: Barely whispering, “WHERE?!”
“Right here! Quickly! Scan it!”
I cover the 5 yards as quickly as my legs will allow.
And I’m done. I look at the clock and know I’ve beat last year’s time. But I hurt too much to celebrate.
I stand at the top of the stairway, waiting for Avé. I want to yell into the stairwell to encourage her, but I have no voice. I motion to the stranger next to me, signaling that I need a sip of her water. She hands it immediately over. I gulp and immediately gag, spraying water all over myself and the cubicle next to me.
Oops. Sorry, innocent owner of that cube.
I try out my voice…
Me: Clapping, “GO, Avé! Finish it out!”
I see the top of her head. She finishes out the last flight strong. I stand by the doorway, prepared to usher her towards the clock and the official finish. She finds it just fine on her own.
She hasn’t seen me yet. She’s just trying to breathe.
My throat hurts so much. More than last year. I can’t do this again.
I wander down a hallway, searching for water for both of us. Avé sees me, and we both take our waters and look for a quiet spot to recover. It takes a several minutes to get our breathing under control. At which time we address our thirsts.
Me: Shaking my head, “They need to find a cure. This year. It has to be this year. Because I cannot do this horrible event again next year.”
Avé nods her agreement.
The nice guy whose 29 year old wife has CF rounds the corner, sees us, and smiles.
Nice Guy: “I forgot about how much it hurts my throat.”
We silently nod in agreement.
Nice Guy: “I think it hurt worst last year.”
I think you’ve lost your marbles, Nice Guy.
We get in line for the elevator. Just like last year, there is a wait. And, like last year, it’s eerily quiet on the ride back down to the lobby.
We stay for the Survivor Party, eating oranges and resting our legs. Screaming over the loud music to hear each other.
My throat is on fire.
Before we leave, we check the finish times, posted on a wall. I scan for my name….
Bethany Meyer 10:40
Son of a bitch. That Avé is indeed a smart one.
I’d finished exactly 20 seconds faster than last year. Just as Avé had predicted when she recommended I take the steps two at a time.
We walk towards the exit of the Mellon Bank Center.
Avé: “Thank you for doing this with me. For the second year. And I say it now, I WILL NOT DO THIS EVER AGAIN!”
Her voice is loud enough that a young guy turns his head and looks at us both.
Avé: Pointing at the strange guy, “And HE is my witness! I WILL NOT DO THIS! EVER AGAIN!”
I love this wacky broad.
Avé: “Well, I don’t feel like I ever need to do this again. But, check back with me in 6 months.”
Just last month, the FDA approved a drug that treats the underlying cause of one strain of cystic fibrosis.
One of the parents from our school community who generously donated sent me an email last week. She said her college roommate has CF. And that roommate just celebrated her 41st birthday.
I hope for a cure for cystic fibrosis. For Avé’s daughter and for all of those who live with this disease. And who die too soon because of it.
I climb to raise money for research for that cure.
Finally, I thank you for your generosity and support in helping me surpass my fundraising goal. A million times over….thank you.
You will hear from Avé later this month…she has graciously accepted my invitation to guest blog…stay tuned…