AMAZING ABILITY: Just a few years after a devastating injury, Mark Block climbs to the top of a Chicago landmark
It is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. It opened in 1973 and became the tallest building in the world, at more than 14-hundred feet. Since then it’s been surpassed in height, and its name has changed but it still symbolizes American might and Midwestern spirit. People feel the same way about the city where it’s located.
“It’s probably one of the best cities you could ever come to!” Says Kaivan Dave. “Oh, it’s a great place with friendly people and a great environment,” gushes lifelong resident Joanna Kappele. Seema Kameth has also lived here her entire life and simply says, “I love the city!”
And what’s not to love? There’s something for everyone in Chicago… from the twenty-six miles of lakefront to the bustling downtown that Iowa native Josh Payne describes as “Fast-paced, energetic, fun, and exciting.”
Then there are the landmarks known around the world. “I have no idea why they changed the name to Willis Tower,” Kaivan wonders, “everybody still calls it Sears Tower.” Seema agrees. “I still call it Sears Tower, too. Willis… what’s that?!?” “Ya know, I’ve been up there before,” says Joanna, “it’s a tall building.”
Big business rules. You have to be tough to survive. “It’s pretty competitive,” Josh admits, “you need to be at the top of your game.” What’s happening inside the building today, gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “corporate climb”. The lobby is packed with athletes who will be hustling up more than one-hundred floors as fast as they can. Once the competition starts the stairwells are filled with the sounds of heavy breathing and shoes pounding the concrete. “I do about 5-6 stair races a year,” a firefighter says, “this is by far the most energetic and the most fun.”
Iowan Mark Block is here for the fun and to see a lot of friends. He can hardly walk a few feet without seeing someone he knows and striking up a conversation. His face is beaming with excitement and about the climb he says, “I’m pumped!” Mark’s team has been training for months but since there are no one-hundred floor building in Des Moines they’ve been taking the buildings in laps.
There are more than two-thousand people here from thirty-eight states and seven countries, and most everyone has a target time in mind. The elite competitors get to the top in about thirteen minutes. It will take Mark a bit longer.
“Twenty-five years ago after a car wreck I was paralyzed,” he explains, “doctors told my parents I would never move again.” When Mark came out of the coma – he refused to believe it. After months of therapy and years of hard work, he was back to normal. Until a few years ago. “Then I fell and hit my head and suffered a spinal cord injury that left me paralyzed on this side.”
Mark returned to the same room at Younker Rehab in Des Moines … re-learning how to do the basics, like holding a fork, dressing himself, and walking. The people at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago helped him go beyond the basics. “It’s courageous and inspiring,” one nurse says of Mark’s climb, “it’s why we do what we do.” She and dozens of her colleagues are in these stairwells because the climb raises money for RIC. “It’s a pretty big challenge,” says a physical therapist who’s doing the climb, “but it’s not nearly as much of a challenge as what most of our patients go through every day.”
They help people who’ve experienced traumatic illnesses and injuries recover and more importantly, reclaim their lives. Last year Mark covered more than one-hundred floors on a hand cycle. He set a goal to do the climb again – on his feet. Every step is hard work. The final floors are agony. Mark is huffing and puffing and groaning at times, but also cracks jokes and even sings as he pushes toward the finish line. When he makes it there, he describes the feeling as, “pure elation”.
You have to be tough to survive this climb. “I would’ve crawled with my fingernails if I had to,” says Mark, “I would’ve crawled on my knees if I had to.” He says he was trying not to count the steps he was taking or the floors he was covering because he was worried about psyching himself out. “I was doing pretty good, then somebody yelled out 82nd floor. Ugh!” he says with a laugh.
Mark Block climbed 103 floors. More than two-thousand stairs. At the top he found things can never truly be measured. “This isn’t about medals, it’s about ability. What better reward than the use of a hand or the ability to take care of yourself? I mean, it’s just amazing… a day of amazing ability.”