DSC Member: Steve Jenkelson takes the stairs

Feature

Why take the elevator when you can take the stairs? That’s Steve Jankelson’s mantra—well, at least it is when he’s participating in the Big Climb, a charity race to the top of the Columbia Center in Seattle, the second tallest building west of the Mississippi. Which adds up to 1,311 stairs in all. Steve’s always been a philanthropic kinda guy, from his teen years to his career in the Air Force. But after his wife had a scare with Lymphoma in 2010 he got serious about giving back to cancer research. And now, alongside his daughter, Steve’s high-stepping all the way to the top.

On getting in the giving mood: “I’d been interested in helping others as far back as high school, when I used my love for swimming as a fundraising tool. But it wasn’t until later on in my life that I made more of a commitment to helping others. I started donating to causes more and more, and I did several long-distance bike rides to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis. When my wife was diagnosed with an enlarged spleen—a potential precursor for Lymphoma—my focus shifted toward fundraising for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Which is how I found the Big Climb.”

On his career in the Air Force: “My dream was always to fly jets. After graduation from Pilot Training, I was assigned to the C-141 Starlifter, which I flew in both peacetime and during combat missions from Panama through the first Persian Gulf War. After the Gulf, I taught new pilots how to fly in the T-38, a supersonic trainer, and then finished my career flying the C-17, a large military transport aircraft, in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I retired from the military in 2012.”

On what makes the Big Climb such an impactful charity: “I think it’s the fact that the Big Climb is such a challenge—the challenge of climbing the biggest building in Seattle. It forms a visceral connection to those stricken with Leukemia and Lymphoma, the people we are trying to help and the people who face a much greater set of challenges and sacrifices.”

On the distance to the top of the Columbia Center: “The whole building is 69 flights of stairs. I’m getting tired just thinking about it.”

On training for the top: “I consider myself a long-distance athlete—for instance, I’ve run in 10 marathons. But I can’t say that helped much! It’s a different set of muscles. You might laugh, but training on a StairMaster works quite well. It’s not perfect, but way better than just winging it. That said, my 10-year-old soccer-playing daughter beat me by 34 seconds! So maybe I’ve still got a ways to go.”

On his climbing soundtrack: “Being a child of the Sixties, you know there’s going to be a lot of Beach Boys, the Doors, the Beatles, et cetera. I mean, what’s a better song to climb 69 flights of stairs to than ‘Light My Fire’ on repeat?”

On how he’s going to unwind now that the Big Climb is over: “I love riding my Harley-Davidson motorcycle, as well as skiing and snowboarding. But there are always more events to be a part of. Relaxation isn’t a word I’m familiar with!”

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