103-story stairclimb raises over $20,000 for tsunami relief

By Tara Kadioglu

Nearly 250 people ventured downtown with the expectation of getting extremely hot and sweaty between the hours of 8 p.m. and 12 a.m. this Saturday night, April 16. But instead of partying all night, these students, faculty, and staff from Chicago’s largest universities set a world record by climbing the Sears Tower’s 103 stories. The Skyscraper Challenge raised $22,680.22 for tsunami relief in South Asia.

A group of students at the University of Chicago spearheaded the event, recruiting help from Northwestern University, Loyola University, and the University of Illinois-Chicago. Each climber donated at least the required minimum of $70. Met by cheers, those who reached the top had a chance to recuperate while viewing Chicago’s nightline from the Tower’s Skydeck. In addition to receiving T-shirts and certificates of completion, climbers listened to Jay-Z and munched on deli sandwiches, cookies, and other treats at a post-climb party in the Tower.

The project was the brainchild of second-year in the College David Clayman. “Of course, the event was incredible,” he said. “It was so fulfilling to finally see everything come together. The view from the Skydeck was amazing.”

Prizes were given out to individual climbers and one team. Woodward House’s 16-member team won a brand new Playstation 2 in exchange for the $1,576 they raised. Reid Sherman, a graduate student in Astronomy and Astrophysics who raised about $1,000 and claims to still have even more pledges to turn in, won the prize for the top individual fundraiser, and took home a new iPod Shuffle.

Corporate sponsors that helped the project materialize include the Chickering Group, the University, and CB Richard Ellis. The University Bookstore, Chicago Dining Services, Allied Security, Naked Food Juice Co., and ABM/Lakeside also supported the effort. Proceeds went to Direct Relief International, which seeks to rebuild a health center on the Nicobar Islands, where over 28,000 remain homeless as a result of the tsunami, according to Clayman.

In a recent issue of the Maroon, José Quintans, head of the Biological Sciences division, claimed to have challenged economics professor Allen Sanderson to climb the Tower by sending him a dead fish wrapped in a copy of the Maroon. When asked if he had spoken to Sanderson right before the climb, Quintans said, “No, but this time I sent him a smoked salmon.” He then added, “I saw him today. He looks worse. He’s definitely far from being in perfect shape.” He said that it would be hard to tell who was in better shape—Sanderson or Barney the Purple Dinosaur.

Sanderson said he had no qualms about eating as he pleased, regardless of its nutritional value. “I had a cherry strudel right before coming here,” he said at the Tower. “It was delicious.” He said he noticed Quintans earlier in the evening. “I think he was having problems finding his way in,” Sanderson said. “He looked like he was going to fall down or something.”

While the professors engaged in a battle of the wits, the climb was far from being a race. Clayman stressed that this event was not about how fast people climbed or who made it to the top first. “People clocked in anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, but almost all finished in 45 minutes or so,” he said. “The most important thing is that a group of 250 students, staff, and faculty from schools across the city spent their Saturday night climbing one of the world’s tallest buildings to raise money for a great cause.”

Second-year in the College Anne Bondarenko did not prepare much for the climb, nor does she consider herself athletic. Like many other climbers, she decided to do it because “it sounded fun, and was for a good cause. Plus you get to say you climbed the Sears Tower. Why wouldn’t I want to do it?”

First-year in the College Jonathan Tanenbaum, in classic U of C style, brought something along with him to maintain the kind of balance between mind and body that Plato advocated. “I have so much work to do this weekend, so I think I might try to read this on the way up,” he said, holding a copy of Saskia Sassen’s The Global City.

Clayman said he hopes to have more climbs like this for different charities in the future, but as of now remains unsure as to what the future may hold. He noted that the next stair climb board, once elected, would have to decide on the coming year’s goals. Election details are yet to be determined, but Clayman would like to hold them “within the coming weeks.”