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Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017 03:07 am

Stair climbing duo

Terry Purcell and John (Oz) Osborn.
It is noon. Terry Purcell of Springfield and John (Oz) Osborn of Rochester stand at the bottom of the stairs of a 14-story building, ready to race to the top – for the 10th time in the past hour.

At 12:01:20 they arrive at the top. One minute and 20 seconds to climb 14 stories?

Stair racing, also known as tower running, is their sport. They travel all over the United States for races. They’ve marked themselves as the Springfield Duo, and many times they come in first and second. In their elite category, usually around 20 people run and Purcell and Osborn start first because they are much faster than the others. But, as many as 3,000-4,000 people show up for stair racing competitions. “It isn’t really that we compete against others; in this sport you compete against yourself and the building,” Oz says.

Their times are hard to fathom: just over two minutes to the top of the 30-story Wyndham Springfield City Centre hotel here in Springfield, and a mere 13 minutes to run the 103 floors of the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in Chicago. They started the season with a race on Nov. 5 in Chicago and have many more races scheduled across the United States throughout the year.  For those wanting to learn more, both Oz and Terry will be leading a practice climb at the Wyndham hotel in Springfield on Sunday, Nov. 12.

Terry Purcell, 46, now works for IBM and started stair racing in Australia in 1993, becoming the leader of Melbourne and Sydney races. His friend had climbed the Empire State Building so Terry entered and won. By 1998 he was the world champion in stair racing, and after moving here in 2001, he continued competing. From 2003-2011 he dominated the sport in the U.S. He raced 18 times in Chicago, and had never been beaten by an American. Now, after a six-year hiatus, he is back at it.

John (Oz) Osborn, trainer at the Rochester Rocket Fitness Club, was taking a spin class at Gold’s Gym to improve his BMX racing endurance. In 2009, he decided to try a practice climb at the Wyndham and met Terry, who “took me under his wing and showed me tips.”

What does it take to pursue this sport? They both say effort, discipline and time. There is no monetary award, just medals. There is no financial compensation for competing.

When asked how this compares to marathon running, Terry explains: “In a marathon you’re running forward, but in this the stairs cause gravity to work against you. If you get tired while running, you can slow down, but you can’t do that when climbing stairs. Slowing down doesn’t make it easier; it just prolongs the agony.” Anyone who works out on a Jacob’s Ladder will understand the difficulty of catching one’s breath on the exercise machine. Consider doing that up 103 stories.

The two train consistently, working on their technique. “Every second counts,” Terry says, “so, most important is to not waste time on the turns in the stairwell. There are 220 turns in the 103-story Willis Tower, so you practice trying to shave 1/10 of a second off each turn. That adds up.” They take turns passing each other. One leads for a set number of floors while the other passes; then they switch.

Oz ran the Willis Tower in 2015, had his girlfriend escorted to the top and when he arrived at the top, he got down on one knee and proposed to her. An hour later he was running a 58-story building at 300 N. LaSalle. Many elite racers run two races in one day. In fact, if someone wins a race and hadn’t competed in the earlier one, it isn’t looked upon kindly.

In 2010, Terry helped the American Lung Association launch the Fight for Air Climb at the Wyndham; the next one is scheduled for Feb. 25, 2018. It usually draws 800-1,000 people, and Oz will be there racing, along with about 4,000 others. Terry, though, will be in Chicago the same day running the Hustle up the Hancock, a race he has won nine times in its 21-year history. As with many races, this is a fundraiser for a cause, the Respiratory Health Association.

Both Terry and Oz encourage others to get climbing. They will be giving tips and leading a practice climb at the Wyndham on Nov. 12 from 2-3:30 p.m. for anyone wanting to get better or to give this a try for the first time.

Cinda Ackerman Klickna is a former District 186 English teacher and immediate past president of the Illinois Education Association.

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