Special Olympics Step Up Challenge

Have you ever signed up for an event only to have more than one person ask you, “What were you thinking?”

Okay, okay, sometimes the things that I find are a little bit out of what people consider ordinary. (Read: Jog ‘n Hog) I happen upon particularly random events that I think might be fun. Then I try to talk someone into joining me. Usually at least one person says, “Aw heck, why not?”

Cue the Philadelphia Special Olympics Step Up challenge.

53 flights of stairs, 1,109 steps, and money for a good cause.

I learned about it on Facebook and after sharing the post, my friend Lynn agreed to join me! Yay Lynn! We registered a week prior to the event, made our plans, and headed into Philly the morning of the stair climb.


BNY Mellon Center on Market Street

There were four “challenges” for varying abilities. Lynn and I didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into, as we’d never done a stair climb before, so we decided to go with the “Fun Climb Challenge”. The Fun Climb was not timed and you were encouraged to go at your own pace – which sounded like a plan to us!

The “Stair Climb Challenge” was timed and the participants were eligible for prizes.

CrossFitters looking to step up the challenge even further were able to register for the “Cross Climb Challenge” which tacked on a WOD to the stair climb.

For participants who had an hour and ambition, the “Multi Climb Challenge” was perfect! People signed up for this would see how many times they could climb the 53 flights in a one hour period.

We took the train from Jersey. After a little walking detour (the police had the area around City Hall roped off for construction), we got ourselves to the building. Staring up to the top, we wondered what exactly we’d signed up for!


In the lobby, we were given our challenge t-shirts and wristbands which labeled us “fun climbers”. An email earlier in the week had said that there would be a gear check but when we inquired, we were told we could just leave our belongings on the floor. Thankfully we both “packed light” for this and shed our sweatshirts, tucking them away into a corner.

From there, we wandered a bit, as we were given no clear directions on what to do or where to go. We found the snack table (bananas, pretzels, and water) and decided we’d stop by for a Philly pretzel after accomplishing our stair climbing task. Watched the Cross Fit challengers, doing their thing. Visited the bathrooms. Things seemed a bit disorganized and when we asked a volunteer questions, we didn’t really get solid answers.

As we started our second loop around the lobby, the stair climbers and fun climbers were called to together by someone who knew what was up. Hooray!

Dun, dun, dun!

Dun, dun, dun!

The event coordinators gave us the run down of how things would work and we lined up, with people going a few at a time. In total there were about 190 participants in all four challenges for the morning.

Those doing the timed challenge went prior to the fun climb. The people right in front of me were timed climbers and I was informed we’d start immediately after them.

We were told to pass on the right. The rescue floors were 9, 25, 34, 40 and at the top (53) – each had water stations and climbers had the ability to bail during those floors.

Once we started, we were immediately going way too fast! Since I was following on the heels of the timed climbers, and I had no sense of how fast or slow I should be going but I soon figured out I wasn’t going to be keeping their pace. Around floor 4 we fell back into a more comfortable cadence. Right around this time, Lynn and I exchanged a glance. The glance was “Whoa! Who came up with this challenge?”

Soon we reached floor 9 and we both gratefully grabbed a cup of water from a volunteer there. Many of the Special Olympians were also doing the fun climb and it was great to see them out there, supporting one another and having their coaches with them.

The scenery?

The scenery?

After a quick breather, we were off again. Taking a break at the rescue floors put a little pep in our step, at least for a couple of flights! The rescue floors were spaced just right.


You know the saying, “don’t look back, you’re not going that way?” Well, I did. Or at least I looked down.

I jammed to my music as we continued up, up, up. I sweated. I took another cup of water at floor 25. I stopped with Lynn at 34 so she could get more water. And we continued on! I looked forward to floor 37, my age, so I could get a picture.


Floor 40 was the last “rescue” floor before we made our way to the top and then there were only 13 more to go. I kept my pace slow and steady, using the handrail and enjoying my music. My quads were burning a bit but nothing horrible and we cheered each other on as we made our way past a couple of other stair climbers. Around floor 51 there was a bit of a change where we made our way into the next tower – it was fun to do something a bit different!

Just like that…

stepup7We made it!


Hooray for Lynn!

We turned into the 53rd floor and finished our climb. Unlike a run, there’s no finish line, and no cheering (well, except for the two of us cheering for each other). But the sense of accomplishment was great!


And you can’t beat the view!


Lynn and I estimate we climbed the 53 flights in about 25 minutes, which wasn’t bad at all. I had no frame of reference as to how quickly we might be able to do it so 25 minutes definitely worked for me. We made our way back to the lobby, via the elevator, and happily got our pretzels. Our sweatshirts were just where we’d left them too!

I overheard a few people talking and figured out that they were in the competitive stair climbing competition. Being curious, I asked the woman (Peggy) how fast she thought she had done it. Turns out I asked the right person! She was the female winner last year at a time of 10 minutes and she beat her time this year at 9:51. Whoa! I asked how she trained for an event like this (as I obviously had NOT) and she said she goes to buildings like this and runs the steps; she does two workouts – one where she does every other step and one where she runs them straight. Always take the elevator down!

The organizers of the event followed up with an email survey asking for input and feedback, which I always appreciate.


Have you ever done a stair climb challenge or something of the like? What events do you sign up for that leave others wondering about your sanity? Do you like follow up surveys?