North Las Vegas woman to ‘Scale the Strat’ in memory of husband

It’s time to climb the Stratosphere tower again. All 108 flights and 1,455 steps.

On Sunday, about 1,000 people will test their lungs and their willpower as they climb their way to the top of the Las Vegas skyline as part of the American Lung Association’s Scale the Strat: Fight for Air Climb.

Debbie Wiechecki will be there. The 58-year-old North Las Vegas resident is making the climb for the fourth time, this year in memory of her husband, Clem, who died in July at the age of 75 from complications related to pulmonary fibrosis.

“The night Clem died, the last thing he said was he loved me,” Wiechecki said during her daily walk Monday at Craig Ranch Regional Park. “And I said that I loved him. Then he put his (oxygen) mask on and his heart stopped.” (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

The two met in San Antonio in 1996 while working for the U.S. Postal Service. They quickly fell in love and married in June, working side by side until his retirement in 2004. The two enjoyed traveling together, visiting 42 states along with their cat, Babe, and three dogs, Beazlee, Wylie and Bogie.

Then, in 2011, after living in Rhode Island for two years, Clem Wiechecki began coughing. Bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis soon followed. After several visits to the doctor, the couple received the news. He had idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

They had no idea what that was.

Pulmonary fibrosis is a chronic, progressive disease that forms scar tissue over the lungs, thickening over time. The scarring builds and eventually interferes with a person’s ability to breathe.

The average life expectancy after diagnosis is three to five years with an early diagnosis. The cause is unknown.

“I was one of the fortunate ones,” Clem Wiechecki told the Review-Journal at last year’s climb. He lived for almost six years after his own diagnosis.

He even climbed in 2016, finishing in just under two hours. He wasn’t able to climb last year because of a lung infection, but he surprised his wife by taking an elevator to the top to meet her there when she finished.

This year, his bib number, 579, has been retired.

Since the climb’s inception 10 years ago, nearly $1.5 million has been raised to support those living with lung disease. Last year, more than 30,000 people participated in 52 climb events across the country put on by the American Lung Association, raising $8.3 million.

Debbie Wiechecki raised more than $2,000 this year and will climb with “Team Clem vs Pulmonary Fibrosis.”

As of Thursday afternoon, participants had raised more than $240,000 with 1,050 registered climbers for the 10th anniversary event, well exceeding last year’s 800 registrants.

Some will race to the top to see who can get there the fastest. Last year, 27-year-old Shaun Stephens-Whale, of Roberts Creek, Canada, made his way to the top in 7 minutes and 3 seconds, according to

Debbie Wiechecki said she doesn’t care how fast she goes, as long as she finishes.

After her walk, she pulled out a stack of pictures and paper from the clear pocket hanging from her lanyard.

She looked at a photo of her husband during the climb in 2016. A whimsical font scrawled across the bottom read “WINNERS are not people who never fail but people who NEVER QUIT!”

Behind the photo were several Post-it Notes with a list of names. Debbie Wiechecki has met countless others diagnosed with lung diseases including pulmonary fibrosis at climbs and through the Team Clem Facebook page. She writes the names of those she connects with on the note.

“I look at them when I need to, and they inspire me to do what I do,” she said. “I carry this on every long walk and every climb.”

In her pouch there’s also a picture of Joseph FireCrow Jr., a Northern Cheyenne flute player from the Crow Reservation. He died from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis a week after Clem.

Then there’s David Brayton. Alan Deuel. On the note, more names: Marty, Joe, Erin, Karen, Katie, Dee, T.J., Alanna, Marianne, Bobby, Marcia, Lisa, David, Bob.

The list gets longer every year.

“I climb for them,” she said. “They stay right here.”

She tucked the pouch back into her jacket and held it against her heart.

Contact Madelyn Reese at or 702-383-0497. Follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

Underground home was built as Cold War-era hideaway
The underground house at 3970 Spencer Street is one of the valley’s most unusual homes built 26 feet underground in 1978 by Girard “Jerry” B. Henderson, who, planned to survive the end of the world there.
Lip Smacking Foodie Tours takes you where the locals go
Donald Contursi talks about Lip Smacking Foodie Tours, which offers walking tours of restaurants on and off Las Vegas Boulevard with food samples and tidbits of history about the places they visit.
Bump stock manufacturers under fire
The Justice Department said last month that it had started the process to amend federal firearms regulations to clarify that federal law defines bump stocks as machine guns.
Art Bell’s Top 10 Shows
A selection of radio host Art Bell’s most popular shows.
Longtime Las Vegas attorney John Momot dies at age 74
Criminal defense attorney John Momot, who represented mob figures and even played himself in the movie “Casino,” has died.
David Copperfield in court after man injured during magic trick
The attorney for a British man who is suing illusionist David Copperfield said his client suffered serious injuries after being called on stage during Copperfield's show at MGM Grand.
5 things connecting Las Vegas and Marilyn Monroe
1. Marilyn Monroe, known then as Norma Jeane, obtained her first divorce in Las Vegas at the age of 20 on September 13, 1946. 2. According to some biographers, Monroe lived at 604 S. 3rd Street for four months during the summer of 1946. The house has since been torn down and is now the site of a parking lot. 3. In 1954, Monroe almost married Joe DiMaggio in Las Vegas but the wedding was called off last minute. The wedding was to be held at the Hotel El Rancho Vegas which was located on the southwest corner of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard. 4. Las Vegas has at least one road dedicated to the star. Marilyn Monroe Avenue is located in east Las Vegas and intersects with Betty Davis Street and Cary Grant Court. 5. There are currently more than 20 Marilyn Monroe impersonators for hire in the Las Vegas Valley.
Sir Richard Branson announces purchase of Hard Rock Hotel
Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, has acquired the Hard Rock Hotel with partners and plans to turn it into a Virgin-branded property by the end of 2019.
3 Centennial High School students killed in Calif. crash (Full)
Three Centennial High School students were killed Thursday morning in Southern California when their vehicle was struck by a suspected drunken driver while they were enjoying their spring break, according to a family member of one of the victims.
Retail Restroom Sexual Assault Suspect
Las Vegas police are asking for help finding a man they said groped a woman in a south Las Vegas Valley restroom. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Calvary Christian Learning Academy, “There was no fair warning.”
Samantha O’Brien, whose three-year-old daughter attended the Calvary Christian Learning Academy daycare, found out Monday night when her daughter’s teacher called about the school closing.
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like