Trek Up The Tower 2016

I needed to move fast.  There was no time to think.  Danny at Whole Foods encouraged me to to register immediately for the First National Bank Stairway to Heaven 7:00 a.m. start time since oxygen in the tower wains as a morning full of runners ascend the highest building between Denver and Chicago.  Got H2O?  As a senior citizen I put a high premium on breathing.  I hurried home with my bagful of organic, paid sixty bucks at and rejoiced over my secure, air-filled slot at the annual event.  Social media, watch out!  I am Valerie – Hear me Roar, and on February 20, 2016, seven days before my 59th birthday, I’m going to Trek Up The Tower.  And then I woke up the next morning.

What the heck was I thinking?

It was a mad dash to my computer geek station to google, “How many have died in Tower Trek?”  It yielded no results.  Maybe those paramedics just quietly drag the old bodies out the side doors on each floor like a frightening episode of The Walking Dead.  For sure the thought was a reality check:  I’m slightly winded walking up 64 steps to my fourth floor apartment.  Stairway to Heaven is 40 floors and 870 steps.   Nevertheless, I’ve always wanted to give this kind of adventure a whirl and the non-athlete in me loves the achievable goal.  Climb stairs.  Get medal at top.

I’ve never gotten an award for any physical achievement.  The gold honorable mention ribbons in grade school for losers don’t count.  Every year I had hoped to earn the Presidential Achievement Award, but one pull-up always stood between me and the multi-colored patch….oh, and that eight minute mile and the sit-ups and the rope climb.  And there was that one time my sixth grade relay team was soaring into first place until the baton was passed to me;  I single-handedly ensured a pitiful loss.  For days my pals wouldn’t speak to me or cheat off of my math paper.  I was forever doomed to be last pick unless it was the Debate Team.

Matt Jackson
Matt Jackson – Owner of M.E.A.T.

As fate would have it, I was scheduled to see my nutrition and life coach the next day.  By 7:06 a.m. the text zoomed in. “See u at 12!  Be prepared to run, jump and step!”   My mind went into overtime.  The Boss had seen my bodacious brag-fest on Facebook and he is the one man who knows how ill-equipped I am to tackle the tower. I determined that he was going to roar in on his motorcycle and echo my “What the heck were you thinking?”

I am a little afraid of him since he controls my food supply.  Based on weekly progress numbers he tweaks my nutritional protein/carbs/fats and issues new numbers and workout scheduleHe knows the minutia of my life, down to the last macro.  I braced myself for the worst, but when Matt Jackson arrived and the helmet came off he disarmed me with “Down 20 lbs. today…good progress…how many days and weeks until the event?”   His iphone lit up and the former bank executive continued,  “You know I used to work at First National so I know those stairs.  And if I look at your progress you’ll be down another 20 by February 20, making the climb a whole lot easier without that weight….and well, I’ll be there to support you.”

I stood before him on Monday, November 9, 2015 as the ever steely eyed Wednesday Adams, giving him no indication that his comment was heading me full steam ahead toward the Oprah ugly cry.  My goals after my daughter Megan died from adrenal cancer were simple.  Get up out of bed.  Brush my teeth…maybe.  Give a damn about something in life.  Thank God I’m light years away from that life.  I’m a 58-year-old woman now signed up for an adventure way out of my comfort zone with a coach that didn’t ask me why and immediately launched into the schedule for how.  As The Boss spoke to me, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that somewhere my life shifted from towering grief to the First National Bank Trek Up The Tower.

Sweet Jesus…I almost asked for a hug.

Weight Training for Trek the Tower 2016

Almost…I made a clean get-away in concealing my emotions and training moved forward.  When you set a goal in M.E.A.T. world, there is work to achieve it.  A wooden box and a set of kettle bells awaited me.  I told Matt “I can’t.”  He told me “You can.”  I did.  From running my chubby bunny body up and down a grassy hill to having me lunge an entire industrial delivery zone, these 12 weeks have been anything but comfortable.  However, the experience has shown me that strong body means strong mind, a life lesson never too late to learn.  There are now 89 days until February 20, 2016.  I won’t be the fastest time, and hopefully not the slowest.  A group of friends will be there, reminding me that we need each other and don’t go it alone.  Regardless of my finish time, a village of people have paved my stairway to heaven, and with new confidence I can say, “See you at the top!”

Key Notes:

  • If you don’t have a team you can sign up under Team Bourdain at
  • It should be noted I am running in memory of my daughter Megan who believed in the core values of the Wellness Council of the Midlands and ran with endurance until her last breath on March 23, 2008.
    • This event raises money for the Council, established in 1982 to promote health and wellness throughout workplaces in the Omaha Community.
    • My daughter is forever on my mind, but I have a life to live in her absence.  I’m also running as a statement that I must take care of the one body I’ve been given.
  • The record run to complete the 870 stair climb was 4:15 (four minutes/15 seconds) by Ivan Marsh in 2013.
  • The fastest female in 2015 was Nikki Perry of Lincoln Nebraska with an impressive 5:39. (Spoiler alert:  That won’t be me.)
    • Overall female times in 2015 ranged from 5:39 to 57:53.
  • Oprah says, “Surround yourself only with people who are going to take you higher.”  Thanks Boss, Kim Schiltz and Team M.E.A.T.  (Make Everyday A Transformation).

On A Lighter Note:

  • When the delivery guys see me lunging across the loading dock area they often give me a wink and a smile.  I know their thoughts include, “”You think that old woman pays for that?”
  • As an author, a central theme of my platform for caregivers is that they must put on their own oxygen mask first.  Oh, I’ll be looking for personal air space on February 20, 2016!
  • Ryan, this may be the only medal your Mum every achieves for physical fitness.  When the time comes, make sure I’m buried with it.
  • Even as an honors English student, I could never really unpack the meaning of the words in Stairway to Heaven, written by Led Zeppelin.  I just know I love the seventh grade dance part with twinkling disco lights.  And if the song came on the radio with my grade school daughter in the car I would start swaying and tell her, “I can feel the beat!”…She would scream at me to stop and want to crawl under the back seat.  That makes me want to echo with laughter.

“And the new day will dawn for those who stand long And the forests will echo with laughter.”

The Stairway to Heaven Logo for the Trek Up the Tower event is used on this blog with permission from the event coordinators.

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Article by: Valerie Bourdain