Eric Leninger

Birthdate: 19 August 1983

Do you have a nickname? Lenny

What is your occupation? Park District HR Manager - former attorney

What/when was your first climb? Hustle Up the Hancock - 2005 (half-climb)

How many climbs have you completed? 64 as of 05/18/2016

Why/how did you start? In college up at Lake Forest there is a 5-floor academic building on campus. One year an on-campus organization held a fundraiser for charity: how many times could you climb up and down the building in 1 hour. Participants were asked to acquire sponsors that would pledge a certain amount for each lap completed. I completed over 50 laps, and raised lots of $$ for the charity (much more than my sponsors thought it would be)! After that, someone suggested I check-out Hustle Up the Hancock. The next month I entered the climb.....earning 2nd over all (half-climb mind you), while carrying my Sony S2 discman. After that I got the climbing bug.

Do you have a favorite climb? Why? I like multi-climbs (either double/triple, or power-hour). There's something about the extended competition, and knowing just how fast you have to go against your competition, that really drives me.

As for buildings.....Oakbrook Terrace Tower is my favorite (the climb has had multiple names over the years). I've lived in the Western Suburbs of Chicago virtually my entire life, and Oakbrook is just a few minutes away. It's a 31-floor building with shallow steps and a narrow stairwell so you can easily reach both rails. I've been a part of the race as it has progressed from a single climb, to the triple, to the power-hour. I've had some very tough races there with some very fast competition....but the 2007 edition is most memorable for me. It was the first year of the triple-climb, and spawned my appreciation for the multi-climb races. On a day where I was expected to (at best) come in 3rd place, I had one of my strongest days in the stairwell and ended-up with the overall victory (my first one in a major race). At the end, I collapsed next to the climber who had worn the #1 bib that day. I did my best to express gratitude and admiration between gasps of air. On the 3rd climb I caught and passed him in the last 2 floors, despite the fact that my legs were total Jell-O. I was in disbelief - did this really just happen? While I was thrilled, I also felt bad and out of I had messed-up the established order. 

Later in the morning that same climber approached me with the #1 bib. He offered it to me saying I had earned it. To this day it hangs on the wall in my house (signed), in the stairwell, directly above the #2 bib I wore that day. 

2 weeks later, that same individual beat me by over a minute at the 10th edition of Hustle Up the Hancock. Throughout the remainder of college (and law school) I hung the #1 bib on my apartment wall right next to the t-shirt from 2007 Hancock. It served as a reminder that I hold close to this day: recognize your accomplishments and rough days....never getting too high or too low. ALWAYS stay humble, because you can always improve. 

The individual named above is Terry Purcell (more on this great individual later).

Least favorite climb? Why? For many years this was Hustle Up the Hancock. It took me many years to "figure-out" the top-half of the building. For a few years I would start-off strong, only to "blow-up" in the final 52 floors. In 2014 I finally figured it out, and then realized that I had some important milestones in that I guess Hancock is no longer my least favorite :-)

Scale the Strat in Vegas isn't my favorite - for the simple reason that I cannot climb with my iPod! Unlike many climbers....I always use music. Sometimes the songs vary, but they are carefully selected to help me focus and concentrate on the specific race at hand.

The Presidential Towers race in Chicago is so much fun....and so much agony. I call it the meat grinder. Even though (as of 2016) I hold the 2 fastest 4-tower climbs there, it isn't an event I look forward to. One year Jesse Berg and I did a 2-person relay...only running 2 buildings makes it a bit more fun!

Are there other sports you're passionate about? In high school I was an average CC and track runner. I also played basketball. I enjoy cycling and swimming too. I do a number of sports/activities in order to remain fit and active, but stairclimbing is the only sport in which I truly focus on competition.

Do you have injuries or issues you need to overcome to climb? The fall of my return to climbing (2013), I was hurt for a couple months after crashing during a 100-mile bike race. In 2011 I strained an intercostal muscle during a climb. Over the years I've had to watch my IT-bands...they can flare-up and cause problems. Every so often (more so in the past couple years), aches and pains can progress into nagging overuse injuries....but (thankfully) nothing terrible.

How do you train? This could be an entire survey itself. I train hard....and a lot :-)

Do you have a special relationship with any of your step-siblings? Legend-> Idol-> Competitor-> Rival-> Friend-> Mentor. Many different interactions here, but they describe how Terry Purcell and I have gotten to know each other better. When I first started climbing, Terry's name was something of a legend. You know, that guy who seems so great that you wonder if he's really real. At 2006 Aon I asked him to take a picture with me, and couldn't believe how nice he was. As I started climbing I thought to myself: "If only 1 day I could get to that level, be in the same league as him...actually compete against cool would that be?!" It took years of hard work and dedication, but slowly my times dropped and became closer to his....close enough that I actually set my sites on beating him. Let's be honest though - the lifetime total in this department is: Eric-1, Terry-EVERY.other.time.we.raced :-) In the last couple years we raced, Terry started becoming somewhat of a coach to me. I've always listened (and thought) I knew exactly what he was saying, but the more time goes on, the more I draw from our conversations...past and present. It's an interesting dynamic between us filled with mutual respect and admiration, but also the fire of pure competition. He's someone I hold in the highest regard...but also someone who brings out my absolute top level of competition. When he retired, I felt that part of my connection to the sport was lost, as there was no-one else on that starting line that I looked forward to racing as much as him. When I returned to the sport after a year off, Terry became a true mentor....helping me understand that life inside the stairwell is applicable to life outside the stairwell too. 

Coming full-circle, I've tried to mentor a few climbers from the next generation as well: Jason Larson, and Bob/Tom Liking. Even though Jason lives a few hours away, he has become one of my best friends. Since we've met, I believe we've stayed at each other's homes nearly a dozen times. The Likings live in the same town as I do, so we train and car-pool together.

Who inspires you? In real-life I draw inspiration from UFC fighter Urijah Faber. Faber is a leader who sets goals, takes chances, and never quits. The "FORM" athletic shorts I often race in are replicas of Urijah's old fight shorts.

I also draw a lot of inspiration from the character Rocky Balboa. A perpetual underdog with an iron will. In ROCKY III his relationship with Apollo Creed changes, as Apollo teaches Rocky what it means to truly be a champion. Inside, I've always considered Terry to be an Apollo-like figure in my life.

Do you have a good luck charm or any superstitions or pre-race rituals? HA - take your pick. Everything from clothing/warm-up gear, songs, jumping into the starting line at the last minute, etc. I always wear 1 white and 1 orange sock as well - representing my Camaro that is white with orange stripes. I don't like climbing in dri-fit or "tech" shirts. I prefer a cotton shirt with sleeves. I've worn many different ones over the years: Illinois Doberman Rescue, DuPont Pioneer, Knight Rider, etc. Since I started racing again in 2013, the most frequent shirt has been the bat breaking through glass - The Dark Knight Rises cover image.

My climb-day breakfast is also a bit unorthodox: Red Bull and Snickers. Yep. You read that correctly.

What's on your iPod during workouts/competitions? All over the board. 3 of the most popular race songs are: Awolnation: Sail, Dragonforce: Through The Fire and Flames, and Kanye West: Stronger.

If we had numbers on our jerseys, what would your number be? 22

What would you like to tell others about yourself and your experience with stair climbing that might inspire them in their lives? Stair climbing has been a big part of my life for many years, and holds many parallels to life outside of climbing/competition. Success isn't easy, and it doesn't come overnight. It's also not defined by anyone other than yourself. Decide what you want to do or what you want to accomplish....and go get it. You might not get there for a while, you might not ever not fully get the intended result, but you will grow along the way and learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible.