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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