There is a scene in the old disaster movie “The Towering Inferno” where fire chief Steve McQueen is on the phone with the Navy Air Rescue man and tells him the elevators are unsafe. So the Air Rescue man says his team will just trot up the stairs, and then McQueen says to the Air Rescue man: “You’ll trot right up to the 79th floor, huh?”
After a pregnant pause, the Navy Rescue Man says his guys will be standing by in the lobby.
Had tower running existed then, they could have just sent the competitors with the low bib numbers up to rescue Faye Dunaway and the others.
They could have sent Erika Aklufi up.
The 37-year-old Yale grad and police officer from Santa Monica, Calif., scaled the Stratosphere Tower stairwell in 8 minutes, 21 seconds, on Sunday morning. She was the first one up from street level to the finish line/observation deck on the 108th floor. She finished first among women in the timed event, sixth overall.
This was the sixth Scale the Strat benefiting the American Lung Association. More than 600 runners went up the 1,455 steps and then took the elevator down.
I had heard the heavy breathing coming from the stairwell around the 105th floor. It wasn’t Erika Aklufi. When she finished ascending the 1,455 steps, she simply sat down in a chair and looked out the window. She could almost see Santa Monica. She wasn’t breathing hard.
The German contingent, on the other hand, was huffing and puffing.
They came from Cologne, and after they climbed the stairway to hell, they collapsed to the floor and stretched their legs up folding chairs to prevent cramps, and they shouted what might have been German swear words.
Gorge Heimann of Cologne ran up those stairs in 7:19 to win the men’s division. When I told the young woman operating the elevator that, she made this expression that said she was glad everybody wasn’t like Gorge Heimann, or she probably wouldn’t have a job.
In addition to raising money and creating awareness for lung disease, this also was for the U.S. championship of tower running. When you got to the top, they put a medal around your neck, and then they offered you a banana or an orange or water in a little bottle.
There’s no prize money in this extreme sport, and they don’t make you stop on the 55th floor and shoot a rifle, like in the biathlon. Before you hightail it for the elevator, they hand you a suitable-for-framing picture of yourself sucking wind going up the last flight of stairs.
Mike Schramm of Las Vegas climbed the 1,455 steps in 9:28, 15th fastest overall. Schramm, a finance director at United Healthcare Nevada, is consider the best tower runner in Las Vegas. He said he has run 32 marathons; he also said it was silly to believe that a marathon prepares one for running up 1,455 steps.
The first time he scaled the Strat, he ran out of gas before he got to the food-court level. He grabbed the hand rails and mostly pulled himself to the top. That’s the way one is supposed to run towers, only Schramm didn’t know it. When he got to the top, they said he had the fifth-best time.
Schramm’s wife Erica also is a tower runner. Five months ago she gave birth to twins. On Sunday morning, she climbed 1,455 steps in 10:13, fourth-fastest among the female stair climbers, proving Lamaze classes are overrated.
Mike Schramm said I should talk to this guy from Seattle named P.J. Glassey, that he was the stairmaster or something to that effect — even if Glassey did finish four seconds behind him in 16th place.
Glassey owns six-pack abs, and a gym in Seattle that specializes in tower running. He says there now is a World Cup of tower running and multiple websites dedicated to it.
I could tell Glassey is real good at taking the stairs, because he has an agent-girlfriend named Beverly Grant. She, too, runs in towers. She says she’s not as fanatical about it as her client-boyfriend, though they did bring their own organic food to Las Vegas.
P.J. Glassey, 47 going on 27, said Scale the Strat probably is a 7 on a 1-to-10 scale of difficult stair climbs, with Willis Tower in Chicago being a 10. The stairwells at the former Sears Tower are steeper than a learning curve.
If they open the Burj Khalifa in Dubai to competition, then it will be the new holy grail of tower running, Glassey says, because Burj Khalifa is 2,722 feet tall — the tallest man-made structure in the world.
“With tower runners, it’s always about the tallest building,” he said.
For me, it was mostly about climbing the 34 steps from the casino floor to the parking garage after a crowd had gathered to use the escalators. When I made it to the top, I had newfound respect for Erika Aklufi and those Germans.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.