UW Today

This is an archived article.

April 8, 2010

Stairmasters: Climbing to fitness at UW Tower

When health authorities recommend that people take the stairs at work instead of the elevator to get some regular exercise, they probably don’t have a workplace like the 22-story UW Tower in mind. Nonetheless, a group of tower inhabitants — and some other UW staffers too — have taken to the tower stairs, and not just a few flights, either.

Walt Dryfoos, for example, makes two trips a day — from one to 22 and back again— five days a week. Since each trip takes 15 minutes, it is, he says, an easy way to meet the government’s 30-minute minimum daily requirement for exercise.

“One of the beauties of this is that you can do the stairs during your morning and afternoon breaks, meet the minimum standard, stay within prescribed break times and still have a lunch break to do as you please,” he said.

Dryfoos, who works in Advancement Services, is an old hand when it comes to stair climbing. Before his unit moved to UW Tower in November of 2008, they were in the IBM Building downtown, which is also 22 stories tall. Dryfoos was on the fifth floor there, so he went from five to 22 and back again during his sessions. But his move to the tower placed him on the first floor, meaning he had to step up his workouts a little.

Dryfoos often has company. In fact, he has an e-mail list of about 20 people who climb the stairs in the tower regularly. With his days full of meetings, Dryfoos never knows quite when he’ll be doing the stairs, so he sends out an e-mail about 10 minutes before he’s set to go.

“Almost always there’s someone else who’s ready to go too,” he said. “I’ve climbed with as few as two and as many as eight people at a time.”

One of the people on Dryfoos’ mailing list is Carla Spaccarotelli, an editor in UW Marketing. “I’m the classic person who eats lunch at her desk and rarely takes a real break,” Spaccarotelli said. “Having people encourage me like this really gets me going. And I always come back refreshed, with a sense of accomplishment.”

Spaccarotelli said she tries to do one round of the stairs, three times a week. In addition to Dryfoos’ list, there are about five people in her own unit who try to schedule climbing together, she said.

“We are part of Creative Services, and creativity isn’t something you can schedule,” Spaccarotelli said. “I find that doing the stairs really helps clear the cobwebs.”

Similarly, Dryfoos said the stair climbing helped him achieve “a higher level of equanimity. I don’t sit and stew when something is bothering me. I get up and move,” he said.

Some of the stair climbers have more athletic ambitions, however. Alfonso Escobar, who is part of the Facilities Services crew at the tower, started stair climbing a year ago after he injured his knee playing soccer. He figured that climbing the stairs would strengthen the knee, so he started with one round. But that soon increased. These days he does the climbing three days a week, about three rounds each time. He climbs more than anyone else.

“My knees are stronger now,” he said. “I started playing soccer again a couple of months ago, and I’m faster and stronger than I used to be.”

Patricia Lichiello also used the tower stairs for training, and the object of her training got bigger as she went along. Lichiello and her colleague, Judith Yarrow, both work in the Health Promotion Research Center, which is housed in the University District Building near the tower. Given their employer, it’s not surprising that the two decided they could improve their health by doing regular stair climbing. They started last spring with one round.

“We were panting so hard, we couldn’t imagine doing more,” Lichiello said. “We’d see Alfonso and thought he was amazing.”

But before long they were increasing to more than one round, and after a while they worked out a training schedule. Once a week they did their “rabbit round” — one round completed as fast as possible. Then on the second training day they’d do their “turtle round” — more than one round completed at a slow and steady pace.

Last August, Yarrow suggested that they sign up for the “Big Climb,” a climb of the 69 flights of stairs in the Columbia Tower downtown. Participants pay a registration fee and raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The climb was scheduled for March 21.

“We didn’t think we could do it, but we began training for it,” Lichiello said.

Unfortunately, Yarrow injured her knee while on vacation and wasn’t able to do the climb, but Lichiello went through with it — joined by a last-minute substitute for Yarrow, Lydia Andris — and succeeded. By the time of the Big Climb, she was up to three rounds in the tower, so she knew she was ready.

“It was a real adventure for me,” she said. “And there was such phenomenal energy at the Big Climb event. My husband went along just to cheer me on, and now he’s so jazzed that he wants to do it next year.”

If Lichiello and her husband do go back to the Big Climb, they may have company. Dryfoos’ assistant, Machiko Gaston, recently placed a clipboard at the top of the tower stairs so that climbers can record the number of flights they do on a given day.

“Every week I sort the list by the most number of flights completed by an individual,” she said. “Eventually I’d love to keep a personal best log for everyone that notes the most number of stairs completed in a week, a month, and maybe even track the fastest time to complete 22 flights.”

If this keeps up, pretty soon we’ll have to call it the UW Tower of Power.