Why I do the Big Climb for leukemia research

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society recently asked me to write a story about why I do the Big Climb each year. Here’s what I sent them. I figured maybe my readers would be interested too. (You can click here to sponsor my climb.)

I have CLL. They tell me that stands for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. But I think it stands for Could’a Lived Longer.

Luckily I’m still able to get around so each year I participate at the Annual Big Climb in Seattle. This March will mark my fourth year. I’ll be joining 6,000 other people in climbing 1,311 steps up the Columbia Center tower, the tallest building in Washington State, to help raise funds for leukemia research.

So why do 6,000 people huff and puff their way to the top? Some climb for those they’ve lost, others for loved ones struggling to fight the disease, and still others climb for the challenge. But all of them are there because they want to see an end to blood diseases.

Why do I climb? Well, it’s all my son’s fault really. About four years ago he calls me up. “Hey Dad, want to climb the Columbia Tower with me? It’s to raise money to fight leukemia.”

I knew what building he was talking about and I’d never considered that any sane person would climb it. But my son, a firefighter, was scheduled to do the Scott Firefighter climb in my name. That climb, also a fund raiser for leukemia research, takes place in the Columbia Center building every year as well, about two weeks before the “civilian” Big Climb. The difference is the firefighters do it with 80 pounds of gear on. So after that arduous climb he was wanting to go at it again two weeks later with his dad. How the heck was I going to say no to that? The following March found the two of us in a concrete stairwell headed for the top.

Posters in stairwell at Big ClimbIn the beginning I was there for the challenge––to see if I could actually pull it off. But then I saw the posters. They were taped to every wall inside the stairwell. Each poster had a photo of somebody. A husband, wife, sister, brother, daughter or son. Some photos were dedicated to individuals still fighting their disease, others simply read “In memory of…”. Many of the climbers touched each poster as they worked their way up the stairs.

That’s when it hit me. I wasn’t climbing for me. I’m 65 years old. I’ve had a lot of good years. But so many younger people are struggling with leukemia. Treatments have come a long way and some people will win their battle, but many others will not. As I climbed the steps it was the photos of children that hit me hardest. We need to beat this disease. Instead of hospital beds and chemo drips, those kids should get the chance to play Little League, have their first kiss, learn to drive, go to the prom, fall in love, and make special, unique lives for themselves.

The Big Climb is a fun challenge and there is much camaraderie amongst the climbers. But at the root of it all is the fight against a disease that claims thousands of lives each year. We’re not going to let it win. The Big Climb raises nearly 3 million dollars annually and I believe blood cancers will be concurred in my lifetime.

There is something magical about the Big Climb. The daily news often make us feel like America is being torn apart, but the truth is when something matters, I mean really matters, thousands of people, no matter what their politics or religions, will come together in common cause. So too the 6,000 men and women crowded into the staging area awaiting their turn to conquer more than just the stairs.

That’s what the Big Climb is about. That’s why I climb.

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