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Hundreds Climb US Bank Tower's 75 stories for charity YMCA

Charity Climb? They're Up to It
Gasp! Hundreds of participants ascend the US Bank Tower's 75 stories to benefit the YMCA. First to the top is a 14-year-old.
By David Pierson, Times Staff Writer
October 7, 2006

Reaching the top of the US Bank TowerStanding at the base of the West Coast's tallest building Friday, Mike Patatian brimmed with confidence. Seventy-five stories, 1,108 feet. About 25 minutes up a stairwell to the top of the US Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles.

By the 30th floor, all he could think was, "I'm dead."

Fifteen minutes later, he finally found himself atop the skyscraper's landmark crown, dry-heaving, coughing, sweating and flushed red.

"I feel like a million bucks," he said, relishing his achievement and enjoying the cool breeze that comes with being on L.A.'s ultimate rooftop.

He looked out at hard-to-imagine views of the city, encircled by the Pacific Ocean and mountain ranges. It's a vista only a select few have had the chance to enjoy, especially since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks brought heightened security.

Patatian, along with 400 other participants, climbed 1,500 steps to raise money for the Ketchum-Downtown YMCA. This was the 13th year of the stair climb, which benefits the YMCA's community development program. As of Friday afternoon, $135,000 had been raised.

For Patatian, it meant earning every cent he was sponsored for.

"There's no way you can prepare for it," the 28-year-old Pasadena resident said. "It took so much to push and push. Near the end, you're doing everything you can to finish. You're pulling on the railing, you're crawling and begging your body to get to the next step."

The competition was split into four-person teams representing different companies. There was also a competition for law enforcement, lifeguard and firefighting personnel. Individual competition takes place today.

The stair climb was a rare opportunity for the public to ascend the circular building on West 5th Street.

The tower was said to be the target of a plan by Al Qaeda to fly a hijacked airplane into the structure shortly after 9/11. Details were revealed in a speech by President Bush in February.

Even before then, access to the tower had been dramatically reduced. Workers must use an electronic key card to pass through security checkpoints. And a curbside drop-off area was reinforced with pylons to prevent cars from getting too close to the building.

Each week, a security guard walks the stairwell (down, not up) to check for suspicious packages. Some photographers have complained of being shooed away by guards while trying to shoot in front of the building.

The tower is one of several landmark high-rises around the nation to open their doors for building climbs, including the "Empire State Building Run-Up" in New York City and the "Hustle Up the Hancock" in Chicago. International races are staged at the CN Tower in Toronto and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Organizers of the Bank Tower event said the idea for the climb was born about 15 years ago when an attorney whose firm was a tenant in the building began ascending the steps every day to get into shape. Co-workers joined in, and then other tenants, before the concept was introduced to the public to raise money for charity.

"It seems hard, but it's relatively doable," said Kym Pietsch, director of financial development and communication for the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles. "It's a great way to help charity."

Rosa Guerra, a member of the Lockton Insurance team, was about to make her first ascent. The 58-year-old San Gabriel resident spent two weeks preparing by climbing the stairs of her office building at 7th and Figueroa streets.

"When I'm climbing, I don't think about what floor I'm on," Guerra said. "I just remind myself, 'It's not painful.' Today, I'm going to think about my Burke Williams [spa] appointment Saturday and how I'm going to relax in the Jacuzzi. I've got to work now for tomorrow."

The first person to finish the race was 14-year-old Connor McCall whose time, just under 12 minutes, is up there with elite climbers. The average participant makes it in 20 to 40 minutes. The record is 9:28.

McCall was making his third climb of the tower. The gangly, crew-cut teenager looked as if he could go another 75 stories.

"It's time to pass the torch to the 14-year-old," said McCall's father, Ed, who said he finished the climb in 12:20.

His son said he made it through the climb by listening to Southern hip-hop on his iPod.

"When you start, you have to go slow at your own pace," Connor McCall said. "When you get to the 50th floor, you feel good. All the pain goes away. You're in the zone. The last 15, you have to dash up and fight your way to the top."

He said the first thing he did when he reached the top was look for the Hollywood sign.

Ed McCall, who works at the private equity investment firm Brentwood Associates, said he, his two sons and some colleagues raised $20,000. The Manhattan Beach residents trained by using a StairMaster and climbing sand dunes near where they live.

"Your heart rate maxes out," Ed McCall said. "Your legs kill, your lungs kill. The air in the stairwell isn't exactly oxygen-rich."

Drinking water off to the side was Patatian, part of a team for the Water & Power Community Credit Union in downtown L.A. He made the climb in 2004, but said this year required more effort because he had not trained and was two years older.

"I figured this is more doable than a marathon," said Patatian, whose company raised about $1,500.

"You just kill yourself for 15 to 20 minutes," he said. "You can conceive doing it. Except, of course, when you're actually doing it. I think I deserve a beer after that."

david.pierson@latimes.com

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