The first two floors didn’t count in the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Climb to the Top fundraiser Feb. 28 at Rockefeller Center.
We traveled up escalators as my fellow participants and I remarked how excited we were to climb 66 flights of stairs with friends and family. Waiting for my turn reminded me of Space Mountain at Walt Disney World. During the slow, upward crawl, moments before reaching the peak, I asked myself, “Can I really do this?”
In December, I decided to join Lauri Spitz’s team, named for her Riverhead business, Moustache Brewing Co. We studied at Stony Brook University together and, after hearing that her husband, Matt, has MS, I felt inspired to help a nice, hard-working couple I know personally. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2013 — just as they launched their Hallett Avenue microbrewery.
I started with a good pace and had every intention of finishing the race. But that all changed when I got to the 20th floor. I felt dizzy and nearly fell backwards.
Lauri came back for me, which I’m still embarrassed about, and flagged down EMTs. They wanted to take me to the hospital. Luckily, I was able to convince them that I’m just really out of shape and would be fine.
No one could tell me how many other climbers didn’t make it, but quite a few people were brought into the EMTs’ staging area where I was resting. One woman, who was so winded she could barely talk, sat down next to me nearly in tears because she was disappointed in herself.
“I want to go back out there,” she told the EMT. “I have MS; I need to finish.”
She was allowed to continue the race a few minutes later, after her vital signs returned to normal.
I took the elevator to meet my team, which had nine members. Lauri and Matt finished the race in 31 minutes, 32 seconds. (To see a video of them reaching the top, visit https://results.chronotrack.com/event/results/event/event-19808)
The prize for completing the grueling climb was more than a spectacular view of New York City from the observation deck, which I later found out normally costs over $30 per ticket.
There was also the intangible reward of helping to try and find a cure for MS.
Lauri participated in the society’s challenge by herself last year, describing the experience as therapeutic. This time, she said, going with a group made the event more meaningful.
While the climb has ended, the society plans more fundraising challenges this month. One of them offers a T-shirt and travel coffee mug to participants who raise $1,000 before the March 31 deadline.
On Monday, the society also launched a new campaign called #WeAreStrongerThanMS in recognition of MS Awareness Week, which ends Sunday.
The nonprofit offers support programs for people with MS and their families and raises money for research. This was the first time I participated in a fundraiser and raised $530 so far. I’m very grateful to everyone who donated. Lauri said our team had raised $8,761 as of Tuesday and made the Top 100 Team Rankings. Additional donations made to the team are still being counted and the society is still accepting donations through March 31.
Lauri also landed on the Top 100 Individual Rankings list for the second year in a row.
Her efforts have inspired me so much that — despite the trip to the EMT tent — I’ve already committed to joining her team again next year. Now I have more time to prepare for the climb and I hope to experience the rush of surviving such a challenge.