Chin Up: A little motivation for the Fight for Air Climb, and some advice if you want to try it
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
As a firefighter, Elijah Krajewski knows there’s no worse feeling than not being able to breathe.
That’s one of the reasons that he’s participated in the Fight for Air Climbs at the U.S. Bank Center each spring for six years. The event is a major fundraiser for the American Lung Association.
But that’s just one of the reasons.
Krajewski, 35, lost more than 50 pounds after doctors told him a few years ago, when he was in his late 20s, that he had very high cholesterol. It was bad enough that he needed to go on medication, but Krajewski has a difficult time remembering to take meds.
Honestly, it was easier for the assistant chief of the Wind Lake fire department to move the scale 235 pounds down to 180.
He thinks about that sometimes when he’s training with a 70-pound weight vest. It’s such a relief to drop it when he’s done.
And he thinks about all the weight he’s lost, too, when he’s in the stairwells of the U.S.
Bank Center. Because it’s the equivalent of the 50 to 60 pounds of firefighter gear he’s wearing.
As if the 47-floors – 1,034 stairs – weren’t challenging enough, Krajewski and other firefighters like him make the climb with an air tank, helmet, protective clothing, boots and more.
And as if that weren’t enough, after doing that for five years, Krajewski decided to do the ultimate climb – a challenge of climbing up as many flights as possible within one hour.
Krajewski has gotten stronger and faster and leaner every year.
At first it took him about 18 to 20 minutes to get to the top – one trip only, with all the 50-60 pound gear. It was brutal. After sprinting to the 20th floor, his body was not ready to push that fast any more.
“I hit a wall,” said Krajewski. “I was just completely exhausted. But nothing really prepares you right? Stairmaster at the gym is great. Running stair wells is good, it’s not the same.”
He kept training and whittled that time down to 10 minutes. That was almost too easy (for him).
“I was looking for a challenge. One time wasn’t enough for me,” said Krajewski.
So in 2019, he completed three climbs in under an hour as his first ultimate attempt. He’s been training ever since – he has other competitions on his to-do list like the Firefighter Combat Challenge and a half Ironman – and will go for four for the March 7 climb.
“It’s a different experience,” he said. “I’ll never be the best at it but I just enjoy doing it and trying new things.”
He’s so fit now he plans to skip stairs up to the 25th floor for the sake of speed, and then take single steps the rest of the way, without stopping. He maintains this pace by running with a metronome in his headphones.
There is time for you to train for the climb if you’d like to try it.
Most climbers aren’t this fast. The men’s Fight For Air Climb record is 5:02, set in 2017 by Sal Impellitteri of Oak Creek; the women’s record is 6:21, set in 2015 by Liz Ruvalcaba of Saint Charles, Illinois, and tied in 2019 by Danielle Anton of Milwaukee.
The key is to walk stairs as much as possible for the next month.
Krajewski will climb for an hour on a stairmaster at 90 steps a minute or do repeated sprints up stairwells. He also runs at his gym, the Princeton Club in New Berlin, wearing a simulator mask.
“Just get out there. Right?” said Krajewski. “Don’t be afraid to be looked at and to be weird because everybody has a starting point. And if you get frustrated, mix it up.”
Advice from an expert
Josh Jackett is a veteran climber who was willing to share some great advice for those looking to try and some data.
He is a Milwaukeean who runs Stair Life, an online social media outlet intended to provide news and information on stair climbing around the country, mainly for competitive and hobbyist climbers. Jackett said the Facebook page maintains a calendar of climbs around the country and publicizes stair climb results locally and nationally.
Stair Life is an information resource, and not a group.
Jackett also is the captain of Stair Club Milwaukee, a loosely associated club of competitive and hobbyist stair climbers in the Milwaukee area who participate in climbs locally and nationally. Stair Club Milwaukee has fielded a Fight For Air Climb every year since 2015 and will be there again in March.
“Honestly, anyone can do it,” said Jackett. “You don’t have to go fast or push yourself to your limits. It’s a really unique experience whatever your reason is for doing it, whatever your fitness level is, or whatever effort you want to give it.”
Jackett said if you have access to a stairwell take advantage of it, especially a long one.
Things like running, cycling and spinning, rowing, the elliptical, or swimming will help increase your cardiovascular fitness. A machine such as a StairMaster is a good option.
“Stair climbing is a cardio activity, but it also taxes your legs pretty significantly,” Jackett said. “The more time in advance you start preparing, the better, but even a month out, you should focus on increasing your cardio base leading up to the climb and preparing for an intense effort.”
Here’s more of Jackett’s story and background with stair climbing and more advice:
“Also, depending on your fitness level, maybe consider taking a day or two or three of recovery or taper immediately before the climb.”
» The 2020 Fight For Air will be his eighth straight Milwaukee Fight For Air Climb, and his 15th stair climb at the U.S. Bank Center.
» Jackett’s personal best at the US Bank Center is 6 minutes 36 seconds, set at the 2018 CF Climb.
» Stair Club Milwaukee has fielded a team at both the Milwaukee Fight For Air Climb and CF Climb Milwaukee every year since 2015. We’ve finished with the fastest overall time among all teams at all of those climbs.
» The 2018 Stair Club Milwaukee team holds the Fight For Air Climb team record of 30:31 (6:07 per person average across top five team finishers).
» Stair Club Milwaukee has fielded three teams at two different Chicago area climbs, finishing first at the 2018 Oakbrook Terrace Fight For Air Climb, second there in 2019, and third at the 2020 Aon Step Up For Kids last month.
– The men’s U.S. Bank Center record is 4:50, set by Justin Stewart of Springfield,Illinois, in the 2011 CF Climb.
» The women’s US Bank Center record is 5:55, also set at the 2011 CF Climb by Cindy Harris of Indianapolis.
– The men’s Fight For Air event record is 5:02, set in 2017 by Sal Impellitteri of Oak Creek.
» The women’s Fight For Air event record is 6:21, set in 2015 by Liz Ruvalcaba of Saint Charles, Illinois, and tied in 2019 by Danielle Anton Milwaukee.
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