Two years ago, my brother, niece, and nephew embarked on the Fight for Air Climb in Oakbrook Terrace in honor of our Aunt Joan and her battle with lung cancer ten years prior. We came back again this year with two more climbers, ready to face the fated stairs again.
The Alumni received special pins to wear in honor of our second climb.
And I wore leggings that best exemplified my feelings. I would finish this Tower climb when pigs flew…
But alas, it was still time to get things moving.
We added Aunt Joan’s name to the wall in memoriam and so began our journey. David Nathanael hustled up the steps, determined to beat his record from last time. Jonathan and Jim weren’t far behind and David and Kaeli kept pace with their hearts beating out of their chests. I brought up the rear and kept a pass that rivaled a snail. But I was still climbing.
As I was making my trek, I met Debbie. A 50-year-old woman with persistent back pains and herniated discs who had climbed the tower once last year. We stayed near one another. About halfway up the first time, she asked if I would consider sticking with her and be her cheerleader because she was really hoping to make it up a second time if I would walk alongside her.
And so we climbed.
On the second time up, I spent much of my time behind her, encouraging her to keep pressing on, despite the pain and difficulty. She persevered and at Floor 20, I asked if she would take a picture with me near Aunt Joan’s sign.
We stopped for water, but didn’t accept a paper towel for our sweat because in her words, “This is how we show our beast mode.” Our pace was slow and steady, but I was reminded that sometimes life isn’t a race. Sometimes, it’s about being the cheerleader. The support. The partner. The one who pushes someone to be their best self. It’s about doing life together and in that stairwell, I was reminded of just how much we need one another in this life.
A lesson that Aunt Joan was often teaching people – just how much we need each other and need to be their through thick and thin.
We also laughed about this sign and I think that spurred us on to finish our second climb up.
At the top, I bid adieu to Debbie and thanked her for journeying with me. We hugged, we selfied, and she was on her way, determined to do three times up next year.
One last climb still awaited me.
David N., Jim, and Jonathan were taking a snooze after they finished their flights in record time. David and Kaeli were already up on their journey. As I turned to start again, David Nathanael reminded me to grab Aunt Joan’s sign.
I was a woman on a mission. Last climb – all by myself – and ready to get to that sign. I climbed. And climbed. And climbed. And as Floor 20 came closer, I could think of nothing more than to reach her. Checked my phone – Kaeli and David were done. Must keep moving. And then I turned the corner to Floor 20…
It was gone. She was gone. The sign that I was journeying after, suddenly gone. And I felt the wind rush out of me because it was that reminder, much like I experienced in 2014, that she was really gone. But I still had 11 floors to go. I still had life left to be lived. And in that sobering thought, I knew that is what she wants. For us to carry on her legacy, to live our life in her absence.
And so I pressed on. And I finished. And we did this big thing – all for her.
Because sometimes, you have to find a way to keep living. Living the best life as she inspired us all to do. She continues to spur us on to greatness. And that is a life worth celebrating and a legacy worth carrying on.
13,260 steps, $3,113 raised, 558 floors, 12 years gone, 6 climbers, in honor of one amazing woman.
All for you, all the time, Aunt Joan.
You can still donate here or join our team next year. #FortWayneFighters would love to have you!