Climbers make their way to top of Willis, with Mark Kirk completing portion
BY STEFANO ESPOSITO Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org November 4, 2012 12:02PM
Zac Vawter stands on "The Ledge" after finishing Skyrise Chicago, the world's tallest stair climb at the Willis Tower. He has the World's first Neutral-Controlled Bionic Leg. Sunday, November 4, 2012. I Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
Updated: December 6, 2012 6:18AM
One hundred and three flights of straight up — hot, muggy and no view along the way except the butt ahead of you.
That’s what some 3,000 people — including, for part of the way, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk — endured Sunday, as they trudged, ran, hobbled and otherwise made their way to the top of the Willis Tower Sunday, climbing 2,107 steps to benefit the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
But, oh, what a view at the top.
“Awesome!” declared stay-at-home mom Michelle Howard, 34, of the Northwest Side, as she took in a sparkling Lake Michigan stretching to the horizon. “I almost cried when I got to the top. It was miserable, but I did it.”
Kirk, recovering from a stroke, took part in the fund-raiser, starting on the 66th floor and taking a little over an hour to emerge from the stairwell on the 103rd floor.
“We’re here — where’s the beer?” he joked, before being hugged by his mother, Judy Kirk. Kirk, wearing a brace on his left leg and walking with a cane, was quickly led away by handlers and ushered into a behind-the-scenes elevator.
Kirk’s physical therapist, Michael Klonowski, said his patient had made the fund-raiser climb a goal when he was a patient at RIC.
“He’s a very driven individual, and we just needed to set the stage for him,” Klonowski said.
Kirk’s was but one of many inspirational stories Sunday. A blind man made the climb. A dozen or so West Chicago firefighters — in full firefighter attire — slogged their way to the top. So did Zac Vawter, a Washington State amputee who wore an RIC “bionic” leg that he controls with his thoughts. Tiny blue lights blinked beneath Vawter’s white shorts, and as the leg moved, it made a crunching sound that brought to mind the movie superhero Iron Man.
Vawter made it all the way to the top and then posed for photographers on The Ledge — one of the Willis Tower’s glass boxes that jut out from the skyscraper.
“When people would ask me if I was nervous about the climb, I would tell them I’m more nervous about the media,” said Vawter, who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident.
Mary Beth Wiener, a nurse at RIC, has participated three times. She described the climb as a “labor of love.”
When she hits “the wall” at about the 40th floor of that gloomy gray stairwell, she only has to think of the children she’s treated at RIC — and “the mountains they have to climb.”
“That kind of gets you to the top,” said Wiener, 53.