The hardest sport you’ve never heard of

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The view from the 55th floor of the Aon Building at 707 Wilshire. Photo by Stan Schwarz

This Saturday, April 6, the American Lung Association sponsors it’s annual climb of the Aon Building at 707 Wilshire — L.A.’s second tallest. But when that’s over and most of the charity climbers reach for that second plate of celebratory waffles, there are dozens more who will grab their bicycle gloves and spandex shorts and head to the nearest staircase for another steep climb. These are the stair climbers. And for them, climbing is an extreme sport. I met up with a few of them recently to tag along on a training climb of the 62-floor Aon Building and found a legitimate subculture of athletes who swear by the sport.

KCRW's Evan George catching his breath after the 55 floor training climb. Photo by Stan Schwarz
KCRW’s Evan George catching his breath after the 55 floor training climb. Photo by Stan Schwarz (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

“I always say it’s the hardest sport you’ve never heard of,” Mark Trahanovsky, a Yorba Linda salesman told me. “This sport is insane,” Stan Schwarz, a Pasadena-based computer administrator and competitive climber, kept saying while he and I were climbing.

What’s so extreme about an indoor staircase? When I showed up at the corner of Wilshire and Hope Street for the climb and found myself staring straight up the Aon Building’s sleek glass, I saw exactly what was so extreme. It looked like an infinity pool in the sky.

You look at skyscrapers in a whole new way when you’re about to climb them. It makes the skyline seem like mountains. And I immediately got the sense that if you were trying to climb while seeing the finish line 600 feet above you, you’d lose all will to move. But you’re trapped indoors, so you’ve got to keep going.

 The “Fight for Air” event on Saturday, April 6 (put on by the American Lung Association) is still signing up willing climbers. And if you get hooked, here are some of the most serious stair climb events around the country…

The Big Climb, Seattle

Ketchum-Downtown YMCA, Los Angeles

Fight for Air-Stratosphere, Las Vegas

Hustle Up the Hancock, Chicago