‘Pain is temporary, Pride is forever’ – CN Tower Climb for UnitedWay

UnitedWay is a well-known charity organization found in major cities across North America, it brings the community together to improve its social conditions. One of the fundraising event it holds is an annual stair climb at the CN Tower. You have to raise a minimum of $75 to be eligible for the climb. Now one may ask ‘what is the point of climbing the stairs?’, well it is to say that you are amongst the few brave ones that have climbed 1776 stairs and made it to the top without being taken down in a stretcher by the paramedics.

Large corporations often get their employees to participate and even have an unofficial competition amongst them to see who can raise the most money. So when I received an e-mail at work asking if I’d like to participate, I registered immediately without thinking twice. I’ve heard of this event before and I’ve always wanted to do it at least once. 2012 so far has been a year of crossing things off my list of ‘things I’ve always wanted to do’ and I’m glad it now has one less item on it.

In the weeks leading up to the event, I solicited my family /friends/co-workers to sponsor me. A few kind souls responded and helped me reach my minimum and some ($86). I had heard how others train themselves to prepare for the big day. I kept promising myself that I will start training, instead of waking up one Sunday morning and climb 1776 stairs. The training never happened due to various reasons, mainly laziness. I was also banking on one of my best friends to also participate so that I’d have some moral support as we’d be suffering side by side. However, she tells me last week she missed the deadline to register so I’ll be all alone amongst strangers.

The day finally arrived, I wouldn’t say I was dreading it nor was I eagerly looking forward to it. My biggest fear was that I’d chicken out last minute and not participate. Second biggest fear was not making it to the top and fainting somewhere in the middle. I didn’t worry too much, mainly because I don’t bother worrying about a future that is already written. I slept well, had breakfast: two slices of whole wheat bread with butter and jam along with coffee and headed downtown to face my fears. At the convention centre I walked around looking for the registration table from my work, but to no avail. Instead, found another person from my company who was also searching. He was middle aged and was here with his teenage son. The three of us walked around another circle after which I suggest we should go to the general registration desk. We picked up our wristband and time tracker and headed to the line going to the tower. We were literally the last of the people in the line, seems like the rest of them wanted to get this done as early as possible since the climb started from 6AM and went on until 10AM.

As we were walking from the convention centre to the tower, there were many volunteers along the way that cheered us on. One of them said, ‘It looks taller than it actually is !’. NO, it looked exactly as tall as it  is, 553.33 m (1815 ft), 144 flights of stairs, 1776 steps. CN Tower was completed in 1976 becoming the world’s tallest free-standing structure and world’s tallest tower at the time; both of these records were held for 34 years until 2010 when the Burj Khalifa rose over it. Initially built as a communications and observation tower, it is now one of the major tourist attractions in Toronto and an integral part of the city skyline. In India, major landmarks for a specific kingdom/region/city were palaces and forts; same goes for Europe. But in North America, it’s tall pointed structures. Yes I know they now exist in other parts of the world, but it’s more prevalent in North America. Granted that it provides stunning aerial views of the city, I feel that it is merely a competition amongst the egoistic leaders around the world to see who can build the tallest. I do marvel at the engineering breakthroughs but the competition aspect of is petty (IMO).

Anywho, back to my climb! After going through security check and some machine that spirited air on each of us (still trying to figure out what that was for) we finally entered the stairways. They were metal stairs, for some reason I thought it would be concrete. There were 12 stairs in each flight and numbers on the walls indicating how many flights we have climbed. At about every 15 flights there was medic in the event someone succumbed to the wrath of the stairs. I hoped to god I won’t need any assistance from the medics.

At 16th flight: My breathing became heavier, indicating for me to slow down. The co-worker I had met now overtook me and gave me some advice to take it slow, pause if I have to and to get into a rhythm. I didn’t see him again until I reached the end.

At 40th flight: Now my body was cursing me, I stopped and took a break to slow down my breathing. Told myself only about a 100 flights more to go.

Halfway Mark: The cheerful medic told me I’ve only got halfway to go. Yeah this would be the harder half! From this point onwards I took a break every 10 flights. My thighs felt heavy as lead.

At 90th flight: At this point I became familiar with about 10 other climbers who were in the same boat as me. We all stopped around the same areas, shared a smile that comforted and encouraged one another.

At 100th flight: Okay now I am in the double digits, no going back. I can do this. Make it to the end. Along the way there were posters with motivating captions. One of them was ‘Pain is temporary, Pride is forever’, I kept on repeating this to myself as I continued towards the finish line.

At 120th flight: My hamstrings were numb by this point. Lungs were burning as my body probably had excess of lactic acid (yes I still remember high school bio).

144th flight (the end!): As I neared the last flight, I could hear cheering. There was a group of volunteers cheering on everyone as they crossed the end.

Once I got to the observation deck, there was another group of cheery volunteers with a bottle of water. I took my water and went outside to the deck where I was welcomed by a strong breeze of wind. It was refreshing, exactly what I needed. Walked around and looked at the familiar buildings of downtown Toronto before heading to the line for the elevators. It took 1776 stairs to climb to the top, however the elevator ride down was merely 58 seconds. Imagine what the plight of mankind would be without the technological advances!

As I headed back to the convention centre I noticed that it was almost empty as they had started clearing up everything. I had to collect my t-shirt with my time on it. I went to the desk and was instructed to tap my chip on a pad. The girl wrote my time on a paper, 35:49 😀 . I was pretty happy with myself, not bad for a girl who absolutely hates taking the stairs and avoids them at all costs during daily commute. However, this joy did not last long. I walk to the next girl who was giving the t-shirts. She was helping another participant, who was a tiny girl half my size and age probably around 10-12 and her time was 25:47 !!! Dang you, you little twerp that stole my thunder which thanks to you only lasted for 3 seconds !

I’ll be back next year, Inshallah.  Not to beat her but to better myself!

Here is an experiment by Volkswagen to make stairs more ‘fun’ to climb: