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A Stairway For Helping PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry   
Thursday, 24 January 2013 07:02

Bill West Walks Up Some Of The Tallest Buildings In The United States To Raise Awareness And Funds For Multiple Myeloma Cancer Research

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Bill West

"Elevators Are For Wimps." The above sentence is not some snark T-shirt slogan. Instead it's an announcement for a type of race that involves climbing the stairs of very tall buildings.

A race like the one Bill West of Granada Hills will compete in on Feb. 6, when he and hundreds of others will claw their way up the stairwells of New York's Empire State Building to help raise funds for various charities.

West's cause? The fight against multiple myeloma, a rare form of cancer.

West, a vice president of membership development for the Cooperative of American Physicians Inc. (CAP), first spotted that phase in 2006 near his company's office in downtown Los Angeles.

"The YMCA downtown has an annual event, which is a stairclimb event, in late September," West said. "They hang banners downtown publicizing the event, and that's their slogan. And I would see that, and year after year I felt challenged by it. I'm not an endurance athlete; I've never run a 5K or any other kind of 'K,' but that looked kind of challenging.

"I always thought to myself 'what if I enter the event and can't make it up the stairs?' But I said to a friend at the office [the stair-climbing event] was something on my list. She jumped out of her chair and said 'It's time to get it off your list.' This was in 2008."

West, 64, has been pulling himself along by handrails and hiking up steps two at a time ever since. "That's how I have to do it," he said.

But his stair climbing and preparation involves more than just competition and staying physically fit.

A Rare Disease

Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that can develop in people over the age of 50.

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The cancer can affect bone marrow, causing swellings and malformations. It can also attack plasma cells, which produce the antibodies that fight infections. Myeloma cancerous cells can create and build up tumors in bones, and occasionally of soft tissue.

It can be diagnosed by the presence of unusual proteins in the blood. Symptoms can include bone pain and fractures, especially in the ribs and back; breathlessness and fatigue due to anemia, loss of weight, frequent fevers and infections.

The disease can be fatal, and so far there is no cure. Depending upon when it's diagnosed, life expectancy can range between 1-10 years, with the average being five years.

Geraldine Ferraro, former congresswoman and the first female U.S. Vice Presidential candidate, and actor Roy Scheider died from the disease. The American Cancer Society had estimated that 21,700 new cases of multiple myeloma would be diagnosed in 2012. To enter the Empire State Building Run Up race, West needed to raise $2,500 for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF). The organization, which describes itself as "the world's largest private funder of myeloma research," is a title sponsor for the event along with the New York Road Runners club. He will be one of 100 invited MMRF charity competitors.

Each competitor must raise at least $2,500 for his or her invitation. West not only raises the funds for MMRF, he pays for the trip to New York himself. It is one of three races he participates in yearly to raise money. Others have included the YMCA race, which takes place in the 75- story Aon Corporation building in downtown Los Angeles, and the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower in Chicago, which measures 108 stories.

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His Friend Mary

Weidner is the wife of Jim Weidner, CAP's chief executive officer. She learned she had the disease in 2007. She has undergone various treatments, including a stem cell transplant for bone marrow, and chemotherapy.

"I am doing okay," Weidner said, talking from Chicago where she and her husband had traveled to for a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday concert. "I still have some challenges left over from my initial myeloma treatments, but everyday is a gift. I'm here and it's all good."

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Weidner said the disease damaged her spine along with attacking her bone marrow. "I was having terrible pain. I had a lot of fissures and cracks from bones becoming brittle and lost three inches in height, from 5-5 to 5-2. They [doctors] injected goo and solidified the spine, but I have chronic pain. "Going back to working out and stretching was painful. But moving and stretching is a way to get better. So I work out." When Jim learned of his wife's illness, he did what he could to learn about the disease and seek out treatments. West told him about the Empire State building race.

"I said 'Jim, let's do this. I'll run up the stairs, and you help me raise the money,'" said West, who is married and has a daughter.

This is the third time West has competed in the Empire State Run Up. "Most of the people climbing are related to someone who's suffering from this disease. I always put Mary Weidner's name on because she's my pal," West said.

"She's an incredible person. And she's this year's patient honoree of the year because she has dedicated her time to help others suffering from this. I asked her what did she get out the MMRF once she was diagnosed and had heard about the organization. She said it was the drugs (for treatment) they had pushed through, but equal to that was the information she had gotten from them." Mary said West's efforts to help improve her quality of life have been the act of "a special friend."

"Bill is an inspiration," she said. "It's about endurance and all about putting one foot in front of next; a 'we can do this together' kind of attitude. His first Empire race he dedicated to me. His ribbon from that race hangs in my studio. I look at it every day."

A Long Way Up

The Empire State Building, which was built in 1931, stands 1,454 feet, including the lightning rod. There are 102 floors, and it takes 1,860 steps to go from the bottom to the top. The competitors, however, get a break; they only have to climb 86 floors, or 1,576 steps. The race starts in the lobby, and ends on the building's Observation Deck that looms nearly a quarter mile above Fifth Avenue.

West, who competes in the 60-99 year age division, said he trains up to eight weeks before each event, climbing hills and stairwells a couple of hours a day 2-3 times a week.

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"Bicyclists do very well at this, because it's the same kind of motion as riding," West said "It's not a jarring motion, [which is good because] I broke my knee a long time ago. But the ones who do well are the ones who compete in bicycle races.

"There are elite climbers who go to these events from around the country. You can run if you can keep it up, and some do. You learn to take it two steps at a time and use the handrails. I started out at 25 minutes for the YMCA and got below 20 minutes [for 75 flights]. The winner does it in around 10 minutes. It's amazing. You see these guys fly by you, and you think they're made out of Styrofoam."

He expressed amusement of those who think they can just show up and do a race. "The first time I did the Empire [in 2011], there were these guys from Wall Street, real macho type-A characters who had never done this before or even trained. But they had raised a lot of money and were now participating. There were four of them. At the starting line, they were teasing each other – 'I'm gonna beat you,' 'you're gonna eat my dust' – and they continued to chip at each other for the first 10 floors," West said.

"That pretty much stopped at the 15th Floor. And by about the 20th Floor they were saying 'where is that water station supposed to be?' They have water stations every 30 floors."

His reward for finishing the race? Good cardiac health, a low pulse rate, and a medal. And, hopefully, another step toward a cure.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 24 January 2013 07:17