Hustle Up the Hancock


Chicago’s iconic Hustle Up the Hancock race brings together some of the most humble and charitable “social climbers” imaginable.

After all, solo climbing up 94 floors wouldn’t be much fun.

Indeed, family, community and togetherness are hallmarks of this annual event, which raises funds and awareness for lung disease.

Each year more than 4,000 climbers, family, friends and volunteers gather at the base of the Hancock, and this year marked the event’s  20th anniversary. The stair climb begins with cheers, inspirational music and confetti tossed by members of Chicago’s Blue Man group.


Blue Man Group, also celebrating 20 years of being part of Chicago, helped kick off Respiratory Health Association’s 20th Anniversary Hustle Up the Hancock.


Balloons, streamers and hundreds of cheering spectators greet the climbers at the top. This year the fastest climber covered all 1,632 steps in just over 10 minutes. The slowest climber finished in a little over two hours. Most of the climbers completed the trek in a 20-40 minute time span. And the spectators, well, they yawned or sipped coffee on the way up the 40-second elevator ride.


Family and friends greet finishers at Respiratory Health Association’s 20th Anniversary Hustle Up the Hancock Full Climb, presented by Exelon.

While the Hustle always has a festive atmosphere, the cause it supports is solemn: to promote lung health. This year’s event, hosted by Respiratory Health Association, raised more than $1 million to support local efforts to promote clean air and lung disease research, education and advocacy.

More than half of the participants say that they or someone they know has been affected by lung disease. Many attribute their successful climb to loved ones who support and help train them.


A participant in Respiratory Health Association’s 20th Anniversary Hustle Up the Hancock adds a note about her reason for climbing.


Mingling in the 95th floor observatory, 360 Chicago, after the climb, participants were quick to point out the climbers they admired most. For some it was the three lung-transplant recipients; for others, the preschool climbers; for still others the 81-year old man climbing with his son and grandsons. Many were also impressed and inspired by the “Elites,” the fastest and most competitive racers.

This year’s “Top Elite Male” finisher, 43 year-old Terry Purcell, of Springfield, says he shares a close bond with some of the other racers. Although a stair race can be a lonely challenge, he says, the confined space also forces connectedness. “I have made some very good friends from stair climbing – and it does feel like a stair climbing family.”

Purcell has raced in six countries and won 18 stair climbing races in Chicago alone, and he has become an unofficial stair climbing ambassador. After sprinting up the Hancock for this year’s climb, he took a short break and then climbed it again. The second time was to film it for a video he’ll post on his “team stair climbing” website to show future climbers what to expect.


Optimum Elite Division top male and female finishers Terry Purcell and Sherri Breese at Respiratory Health Association’s 20th Anniversary Hustle Up the Hancock.


Family plays an important role in the sport for this year’s “Top Elite Female” finisher as well. Sherri Breese, 33, of Palatine, trains with her husband, Steve, in the stairwell of their building. Not to be left out, their son, Logan, started climbing stairs in their home when he was just nine months old.

Logan will have to wait a few more years before he can join the Hustle race.

Trailblazing a path for little Logan this year was the youngest participant, four-year-old Liam Flood, of Chicago. Liam completed the “Half Climb,” a 52-floor alternative to the full 94-floor climb, with his father, Walt Flood. Walt, who moved to Chicago from Boulder, Colorado, 12 years ago, has been doing the Hustle every year since, and says its the closest thing he’s found to mountain climbing.


The youngest climber at Respiratory Health Association’s 20th Anniversary Hustle Up the Hancock was four-year-old Liam Flood, of Chicago, who completed the CBS 2 Half Climb. Pictured here with his father, Walter Flood IV, and Annabelle Makiejus, 6, of Plainfield, who also participated in the Half Climb.


This was the first year Liam was finally old enough to do the climb, and no one wanted to miss it. Liam’s mother, Niki, baby sister Evelyn, grandmother and dozens of other family, friends and teammates greeted Liam with hugs, high fives and smiles when he finished his climb. Liam celebrated his finish with fruit snacks at the Observatory and a look out the window at the tiny cars 95 floors below.

Other young climbers were veterans next to Liam. Returning to the Hustle for the fourth time was nine-year-old Callie Miller, of Bartlett, who Callie won the event for her age group. She climbs to honor her grandmother and namesake, Peggy Callahan, who died of emphysema before Callie was born. She also climbs to inspire others to do it, as well as to encourage people to stop smoking. Her advice to new climbers is to train hard, start slow and drink lots of water before the race.


Celebrating a successful 94 floor climb at Respiratory Health Association’s 20th Anniversary Hustle Up the Hancock are from left, Mary Miller with her daughter, Callie Miller, and Malik Carter and his father, Chris Carter.


This year also marked a return for Callie’s Hustle teammate, seven-year-old Malik Carter of Huntley. Callie and Malik shared big smiles after the race, and unlike most of the adult climbers, neither looked or sounded tired.

Malik’s father says he finds the Hustle particularly meaningful because Malik suffers from asthma. Despite this breathing condition, Malik appeared to finish the climb with ease. Malik described his experience: “At the start it felt long and I felt kind of weak, but I just kept going and then felt stronger.”

The young kids weren’t the only climbers attracting extra attention and admiration due to their ages. At the other end of the age spectrum was 81-year-old Vincent Chiaramonte, Sr., of Rockford. Chiaramonte climbed with his son, Vincent Chiaramonte, Jr. of Camptom Hill, and two grandsons. The four men wore matching t-shirts with the words “Papa and the Boys”.


Vincent Chiaramonte of Rockford, the 20th Anniversary Hustle Up the Hancock’s oldest finisher at 81 years of age, pictured at the finish line with his son Vincent Chiaramonte, Jr. of Hampton Hills.


For them, as well as so many other participants, the Hustle served as a meaningful event and a perfect excuse for a family reunion and community celebration.


One of Chicago’s best views greeted finishers, who exited the stairs into the 360 Chicago Observatory at the John Hancock Center.


Alexandria Strother, reigning Miss Chicago, poses prior to participating in Respiratory Health Association’s 20th Anniversary Hustle Up the Hancock. Strother competed in the CBS2 Half Climb division.


CBS 2 Team, including news reporters Aubrina Bigos, Charlie De Mar and Derrick Young, moments before taking the stairs for the race.


Members of the Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, Fire Department celebrate a successful climb. Pictured from left are Mark Stevens, Aaron Huebner and Clint Mueller.

Photo Credit:

Sooz Main

Gina Schwieger

Kelsey Wright