CHICAGO | It was a labor of love in memory of a woman who lost her battle with respiratory illness.
Beverly residents Matt and Diane Knoepke took 40 minutes to climb 1,632 steps to the 94th floor of the John Hancock Building during Sunday’s 16th annual Hustle Up the Hancock sponsored by the Chicago-based Respiratory Health Association.
Their inspiration was Matt’s mother, Carol Knoepke of Munster, who died in March 2012 at age 63 from interstitial lung disease, which causes scarring of the lungs and makes it progressively more difficult to breathe.
A metallurgical engineer at Arcelor Mittal Steel Mill in East Chicago, Carol Knoepke remained active even during her last year of life when she had to use oxygen 24/7, said her daughter-in-law.
“When I first met her 10 years ago, she had a persistent cough and was diagnosed that year. Carol had the symptoms for 20 years before that,” said Diane Knoepke, 34. “She was always wonderfully stubborn in the best possible way. She showed up for life.”
This was the fourth Hustle that Matt and Diane Knoepke walked as Carol’s Climbers, and the first without Carol cheering them on. They were among the 4,000 who took the 2013 challenge.
Getting ready for the 94-story climb took lots of practice on incline machines and treadmills for both Diane, a consultant with Mission Measurement in Chicago and 35-year old Matt, a biology teacher at Homewood-Flossmoor High School.
“We also practice at the Hilton Hotel in Chicago, the official hotel of the Hancock Hustle,” Diane Knoepke said. “They open the stairwell so we can practice climbing.”
The Knoepkes took off at 9 a.m. Sunday and made the climb “slow and steady,” Diane Knoepke said. “I run marathons, but this is the most intense cardio workout I’ve ever done.”
Once they reached the 94th floor, the views on the cloudless sunny day were “beautiful,” she said as the couple waited for the elevator to descend back to ground level. “It’s really pretty with the snow and the ice on the lake.”
Fundraising for respiratory research through the Respiratory Health Association is another motivation for the couple.
“We raise $2,000 each year. This was our biggest year. Counting today, we raised $4,000,” Diane Knoepke said.
“It’s so frustrating because there is not enough known about interstitial lung disease. The Respiratory Health Association also funds environmental improvement,” she said. “This year was a celebration, although it was a hard thing to do (without Carol). But it’s a great, great cause.”
Unlike a 5K run, the Hustle Up the Hancock is an intense challenge, said Joel Africk, president and CEO of the sponsoring Respiratory Health Association based in Chicago.
“You reach your aerobic threshold about the 10th floor,” he said about the sold-out event that takes place at the John Hancock Center.
“We’ve had climbers as young as 6 and as old as 91 years old,” Africk said. Of the 4,000 who signed up this year, 2,625 have some kind of lung disease, including asthma and COPD.
The climbers chose to take the stairs to the 94th floor or halfway up to the 52th floor.
First up the stairs were 29 professional climbers who finish the 1,632 steps in just 10 minutes.
“We have climbing waves. Climbers are released into the stairwells at intervals so there is no congestion or safety concerns,” he said. “The last thing a weekend climbers wants to hear is the thundering hoof beats of a professional climber behind you.”
Since 1998, the Hustle Up the Hancock has raised $10 million, Africk said.
“Our goal for 2013 is to raise $1.1 million,” he said.