Saturday, October 31, 2009

My broken heart climbs 1,776 steps up Toronto's CN Tower

Every year, thousands of people, from eight to 85, climb the 1,776 steps up Toronto’s CN Tower in fund-raising events for worthy causes. In April, more than 6,200 climbed for the World Wildlife Fund. On October 24 and 25, Saturday and Sunday, 12,000 climbed for Toronto’s United Way.
People who are blind, who are paraplegics, who have cancer or diabetes, have climbed to the top. Plus at least one person with an impaired heart — me — and undoubtedly many other troubled hearts. In 2002, World Champion Paralympian Jeff Adams climbed the Tower in a wheelchair. (In 1988, two men hauled a stove and a refrigerator to the top; in 1989, a crew from General Motors hauled up a car, piece by piece).
Seventeen athletes from AthletesCAN made the climb on Sunday, each with an inspiring story of courage and grit. Among them:
•Tyler Mosher, who nine years ago broke his back in nine places in a snowboarding fall and was told he would never walk again. He is this year’s world champion for adaptive snowboarding and will represent Canada at next year’s Paralympic Games in his hometown of Whistler, B.C.
•Kyle Miller, who six years ago was diagnosed with the same rare form of bone cancer that hobbled Terry Fox on his historic cross-Canada run. Miller battled through chemotherapy and three years later played goal for Team Canada when it won the world lacrosse championship. He plans to repeat the feat next year.
•Chris Jarvis, a diabetic member of the Canadian Rowing Team since 2002, last year’s silver medalist in Canada and 2007 Pan American Games gold medalist. He is head coach and director of operations with Connected In Motion, an organization that aims “to create a ‘slipstream’ for people living with diabetes.”
My daughter, Carol, signed me up to join her team of 20 climbers from Equifax Canada. Our group was slated as one of the first to go. More than a hundred people were already milling about the Toronto Convention Centre when we arrived to sign in at 5:30 am. It is after six when we start climbing. Carol insists on accompanying me all the way, although she is capable of doing it in a fraction of the time it will take me. That’s good. I enjoy her company.
The grey, treaded steel steps with the iron railings wind up the well, a laced steel curtain hugging the stairs so that no one can fall down the gap between the steps and the bare, concrete wall. The steps are just wide enough for three abreast. At the top of each 12th step there is a landing that can accommodate five or six resting climbers.
My wristwatch/heart monitor governs my time. When exercising, each stroke of my 78-year-old impaired heart pumps out significantly less blood and oxygen for my muscles than a healthy heart. Thus it must work harder, imposing a safety limit. On my semi-annual stress test in May, my heart rate reached 143 beats per minute (bpm), my maximum safe peak heart rate. The manuals say that the heart-training rate during exercise should be between 50 and 85 percent of that brief, maximum rate, or up to 124 bpm in my case. That is my safety limit for sustained exertion.
I set out to climb at a slow pace and hug the outside so that others can pass. Racers ran to the top in a few minutes but most climbers walked. I stopped at every tenth landing — after every 120 steps — to check my pulse. It varied between 120 and 128 bpm. I rested until it slowed to 90, about two minutes. Within those parameters, it was not a difficult climb. There was no pounding in my chest, no gasping for air, no sweating. Because I had trained for almost a year, my legs did not tire.
It took me an hour and 16 minutes to reach the top. I rested 15 times, about half an hour in total. Without my monitor to tell me my heart needed those slow-down rests, I might have made it to the top in less time. Or I might have collapsed, and never reached the top. But it was not a race. It was a personal challenge that gave me satisfaction. And I hope it might provide one small example of how the difficulties of troubled hearts can often be conquered.
I’d like to do the climb next year. Next time, in addition to providing a little money for Toronto’s United Way, I’d like to raise money for a local cause, Lindsay’s Ross Memorial Hospital. Last year Art Wilson made the climb at age 85 and raised $7,000 for the Kitchener-Waterloo United Way.
Now there’s an inspiration!

Me and my daughter Carol, at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, October 25, as we prepare to climb 1,776 steps up Toronto’s CN Tower.

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