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Mr. Skyscraper Stair Climber-Upper
By Ron Skrabacz | Daily Herald Columnist

Nick Wirsching, 22, outdid the more than 2,000 others doing the Go Vertical Chicago stair climb this year at the Sears Tower. For the second year in a row, he scaled the nation's tallest building four times -- and wanted to do a fifth.


Photo courtesy of Nick Wirsching

Nick Wirsching took this photograph of himself during his first Sears Tower stair climb on Nov. 15, 2007.


Photo courtesy of Nick Wirsching

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Published: 11/25/2008 12:02 AM

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A recent Bud Light advertising campaign often saluted Real American Heroes - a tongue-in-cheek look at everyday people who do everyday things extraordinarily well.

You might say West Chicago's Nick Wirsching is such a hero. So here's to you Mr. Skyscraper Stair Climber Upper.

Wirsching, 22, joined more than 2,000 others in Go Vertical Chicago, an annual charitable stair-climbing event benefiting cancer on Nov. 9 in Chicago's Sears Tower. With 2,109 stairs to climb to the skydeck on the 103rd floor, others did it faster, but nobody did it with as much passion as this extreme sports enthusiast.

For the second year in a row, Wirsching scaled the stairwell of the nation's tallest building not once, but four times in a row. This year's feat was certainly more planned than last.

"I showed up (last year) with no ambition to do it more than once," Wirsching said. "When I got to the top and was getting ready to go home, I was looking at the door and I was like 'I've got nothing else to do; let's do it again.' Then it became a motivational thing."

He did do it again - and again, and again. For those of you keeping score, that comes to 8,436 steps - more than a mile of stairs. He was willing to do that again this year, and possibly more if he had been given the chance.

"I was going for five times because the year before I had done four," Wirsching said. "It was four times in like 3½ hours. I tried to go for five, but they closed the doors early. I wanted to break my own record."

Amazingly, he climbed the stairs while wearing Crocs, a pair of plastic clogs.

Although Wirsching thrives on the extreme nature of his endeavors, that is not his primary motivation. Go Vertical Chicago, now in its seventh year, is a fundraising event for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation. Seeing all the other participants last year with T-shirts commemorating loved ones who were battling or had battled cancer was quite moving for Wirsching.

"When I first showed up, I was just doing it because it was something to do," he said. "Then as I'm doing it, I'm seeing people with T-shirts with loved ones who had died, or a group of six or seven climbers in memory of someone. All of a sudden, it was like, 'Wow, this is so awesome to be a part of this.'"

This year, the stair climb raised nearly $400,000 to fund cancer research.

Wirsching is as passionate about helping a good cause as he is about participating in extreme sports. He credits his parents, Michael and Suzanne Wirsching, with instilling in him a passion for life and service to others. His father served in the Navy and Marines before retiring from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel, so venturing out to try new things and see new places is just a part of who he is. Combining that adventurous spirit with helping others is simply icing on the cake.

Wirsching is determined to some day join the Ride: Well Tour that uses cross-country cycling tours to raise funds and awareness for Blood: Water Mission and the 1000 Wells Project in Africa. Blood: Water Mission is partnering with groups and individuals to empower Africans to build healthier communities through sustainable clean blood and clean water solutions. The 1000 Wells Project is building 1,000 wells and clean water projects in 1,000 African communities; both are on the Web site at

Raising the public's awareness to these kinds of causes is what Wirsching would most like to do with his activities. Besides cycling across the United States, he plans to someday scale the Seven Summits, the seven highest mountain peaks on the seven continents, beginning with Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa.

"It's amazing what you can do with the body if you just push it, and you're not afraid to do it," Wirsching said.

So how about the Iron Man competition?

"I hate running," Wirsching admits. "Swimming I could do that for hours. Bicycling I could do it for hours, which I've done. But running? I absolutely hate running from the first step. I would love to do an Iron Man some day if I could just fall in love with running. That's the catch."

Another catch is making sure he is doing it for a good cause. Wirsching admits the ideal job for him would be raising money and awareness for others while using his passion for extreme participation.

"It's incredibly difficult to change the world, yet it does happen," he said. "I love life. I'd love to bike across the country or climb Kilimanjaro or climb Everest. And what better way to do it; not for selfish reasons, but if you can raise money for somebody else. That would be fantastic. I think it's cool when people unite and try to do something for a good cause."

Nice work if you can get it, and Wirsching seems destined to at least give it a try. So here's to you Mr. Professional Good Cause Guy.