No elevators, no escalators, no pogo sticks. It’s just you and your stems stepping, lunging, crawling up 95 floors to the top of the John Hancock building in Chicago, all for an important charity, literally close to your heart-the Lung Association, which you are proud to help out because both your parents died from lung disease.

From the first step to the 1,632nd step, you picture their faces, reflect on the good times, and stay focused on hitting every second step on cue as your calves burn, your thighs ache, and your heart beats down the agony of it all.

Oak Parker Norma Rixter and 10 other locals will climb the Hancock stairs in the early morning hours of Feb. 25. The group, made up of Rixter, Laurie Berggren, Anthony Bersani, Helene Connolly, Mark Connolly, Mark Hanley, Janet Hanley, Krista Kaplan, Robyn Pearson, Karen Stoltz and Stephanie Vacca, all members of the Tennis and Fitness Centre of Oak Park and River Forest, named itself the Hustlers. The Hustlers have raised over $3,000 for the Lung Association.

For Rixter, the climb is personal. Not only did her parents die as the result of lung disease, but doctors have told Rixter that she has diminished lung capacity, more than likely the result of having grown up in a house with smokers. You can say she’s out to prove that her lungs are just fine, thank you very much.

“It started out as just something fun to do for a good cause, but then I started training for it, and now it’s turned into something much more than that,” says Rixter, who exercises daily. “It’s the first time I’ve ever really challenged myself in a physical sense. I want to see it through. My goal is to finish first in my age group.”

Rixter, who will turn 52 a month after the climb, started training back in November.

“I was at a high school reunion over the summer and someone mentioned that I should do the climb at the Hancock. That’s how it all began,” she recalls. Rixter’s goal is to finish under 15 minutes.

Berggren, the fitness director at the Tennis and Fitness Centre, has had the group working out on stationary bikes, running, and, of course, using stair-stepper machines. The exhausting workouts paid off early when Rixter and the group recently did a training climb of 30 floors at the Hyatt.

“You could say I was in a zone, just going up and up, when suddenly I came to a place with a table and everyone standing around and I thought, ‘Oh this is nice, a water break.'” Rixter had mistook the finish line for a mere pit stop. “I was ready to climb another 60.”

And so she will, along with her fellow Hustlers. While you’re nestled warm and cozy in your bed on that cold Sunday morning, Rixter and her gang will be two-stepping to the skies, in pursuit of conquering a challenge.

When it’s over their lungs will be so filled with pride, they’ll need to take the elevator down.


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Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...