Tom McGee

Do you go by a nickname? Not since my school days – Max, after Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl I hero, Max McGee     

Birthdate: 25 August 1956      

What is your occupation? Qualitative Market Research Consultant - I’m not a numbers guy; I prefer living in the fuzzy grey area instead of black & white.      

What/when was your first climb? American Lung Association’s Tackle the Tower; Oakbrook, IL 2/12/06     

How many climbs have you completed? 50, as of this year’s 1 WTC climb     

Why/how did you start? I love bike riding, and back then, I would put my bike away once December rolled around in Chicago. I got bored going to the gym, so was looking for something else to keep me active in the winter. I heard about the climb, it sounded like fun, and being an ex-smoker, I supported the ALA’s cause. So, I gave it a try, got hooked and have been climbing ever since.      

Do you have a favorite climb? Why? I can’t say I have any one favorite, b/c they are all different.  ALA Oakbrook is always one of my favorites b/c it was my first climb, and it’s a great building. It has a fairly narrow stairwell that allows you to use both railings, it’s clean, and it has a consistent step count all the way to the 31st floor. It also has, what I think is the best organized Power Hour of any climb – you never have to wait for the elevator down to the lobby. I also love the Sears/Willis Tower. It was my second ever climb, and after doing Oakbrook’s 31 floors, I didn’t think Sears would be all that difficult at 103 kicked my butt It’s the hardest climb for me, but I love doing it. Another favorite is AON Chicago. It’s a clean stairwell, has a consistent stair count up to the 80th floor. And, best of all, they allow climbers to do as many repeats as they want after their initial timed climb. Last year a whole group of us did a vertical mile climb – believe that required about 7-8 trips up. And, of course, 1 WTC. I had the honor of doing the inaugural climb of 90 floors in 2015, and the full 104 this past May. As a native New Yorker, and with my brother a member of FDNY who spend 6 months on recovery at the site in 2001/2002, and still on the force as a captain, this climb will always have great meaning.     

Least favorite climb? Why? I enjoy the challenge, and have done it the past 4 years, but the American Lung climb in Milwaukee’s US Bank Center is always tough. Most of the people I know do the Power Hour/Elite Climb, and at 47 floors, it’s a tough one. Beyond the climb itself, the most aggravating aspect of the event is that the PH takes place in a stairwell that starts in the sub-basement, and when climbers reach the top floor, they are required to use slow moving and erratically timed service elevators to get back down. The elevators have broken down or gotten stuck on multiple occasions, one year stranding climbers for about 5 minutes – thus, blowing their chances at winning or at least achieving PRs.     

Why do you climb? I love the workout – it’s unlike any other physical activity I’ve ever tried and, by far, the most difficult. I’m never going to be on the podium, but I love the challenge of trying to top my times from previous years / set PRs. It’s a sport that’s tough to explain to people who have never tried it. Friends don’t fully appreciate how difficult and rewarding it can be. There’s a great sense of accomplishment when you’re back out on the street after a climb and you know you just conquered the building you’re standing under.

The other aspect of the sport I love is the people. Regardless of whether you’re an elite climber, the slowest climber or somewhere in between, everyone is completely supportive of one another. Regardless of how competitive the top climbers are, they are always willing to offer encouragement in and out of the stairwell. I feel there’s an unspoken respect among step-sibs in knowing that we each try to do our best whenever we climb. I’ve also been fortunate to form friendships with a number of climbers, and even though we may only see each other a couple times a year, we always enjoy the time together, whether it’s for pre or post climb meals, an occasional social outing, or just a post-climb photo-op on the top floor. And, of course, there’s always Facebook!!!     

Are there other sports you’re passionate about? Road bicycling.  Much like stair climbing, I’m never to going to set any land speed records, but I can ride all day I enjoy completing century rides, an occasional hill climbing challenge, bike touring, and week-long bike parties such as RAGBRAI      

Did you have injuries or issues you needed to overcome to climb? Nothing serious      

How do you train? Cycling is a great cross-training exercise, especially doing hills. Unfortunately, in Chicago, you need to travel a bit to find hills  I’ve also had good luck with friends either living or working in high-rises around Chicago, so we access their stairwells whenever possible. Friends & I will also sneak into hotels when possible (security eventually gets wise and kicks us out, but we usually have good runs before that happens). There’s also a great outdoor stair climbing area in suburban Chicago, called Swallow Cliff that is great for training. Unfortunately, I no longer live close enough to get there very often. It’s an old toboggan hill that was closed years ago for safety reasons, but they kept the stairs intact, and just recently added another set of stairs b/c the originals have become too crowded. Beyond that, it’s a lot of lunges, squats, etc.     

Do you have a special relationship with any of your step-siblings? Number one, my girlfriend, Debbie Breit ☺  who started stair climbing in 2015, and is now hooked. Beyond her, I’ve become good friends with Harish Nambiar. We have road-tripped across the Upper Midwest the past 2 years doing a series of American Lung Association climbs. And, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know his entire family who participates in the Chicago area climbs at Oakbrook and Presidential Towers.

A group of us in the Chicago area also formed a team, The Half-Fast Climbing Society, and enjoy climbing together whenever possible – Dave Hecker, Andy Hanson, Sherm Fields, Brian Duhn, Eldridge Bolin, Malina Chereji, Anna Dowd,as well as Debbie, and Harish and family. I’ve also climbed as part of Karen Geninatti’s team for ALA Springfield, and with many others as part of Mark’s West Coast Labels/X-Gym team.      

Who inspires you? Most inspiring is Mark Block. I know his story has been well documented, but every time I see him, I tell myself, no matter how much pain I might be in at some point during a climb, it can’t compare with what he’s been through, and what he’s accomplished. It’s an amazing story.

I’m also inspired by my girlfriend, Debbie Breit, and Madeleine Fontillas Ronk. They are both breast cancer survivors who refuse to let that stop them. Deb loves life, and will not back down from a challenge. She doesn’t obsess over her times in the stairwell, but shows up and climbs as hard as she can.     

Do you have a good luck charm or any superstitions or pre-race rituals?  No good luck charm or set ritual, but I am a breakfast freak, so will wake up hours before a climb to eat and allow time for the food to digest. Although, I wish I could do Eric Leninger’s Snickers bar & Red Bull pre-race routine and, of course, then win ever climb I compete in      

What's on your iPod during workouts/competitions? I never listen to music when climbing or cycling. I find it distracting. I like to know what’s going on around me, especially when biking on the road.     

Do you have a website or blog for those interested in learning more about you? Nothing beyond my Facebook page     

If we had numbers on our jerseys, what would your number be? 56 – my birth year, and the number of my all-time favorite NY Giant, Lawrence Taylor.     

What would you like to tell others about yourself and your experience with stair climbing that might inspire them in their lives? Not to be intimidated by something that you might initially fear, or that other people have told you you’re not capable of, or shouldn’t bother trying to achieve.  At the wise old age of 59, I’ve learned to stop listening to negative people, and I don’t listen to those suggesting that “I act my age.” (I never have understood what that means). I hope I’m still climbing stairs in my 90’s!   Do what makes you happy!      

Additional Comments Thanks for inviting me to share my thoughts, Jane. I just completed reading your wonderful book, “See Jane Climb,” and am suggesting it to others who might be looking for some inspiration.