Meet a local doctor who has traveled the world to improve his fitness one step at a time
When Longwood resident Dr. Joe Ragno tells people that he’s into stair climbing as a sport, the initial reaction he typically gets is, “Really? That’s a thing people do?”
Why yes, it is – and the growing popularity of this new sports discipline is reaching global proportions. Stair climbing, also known as vertical running or tower running, is an endurance sport in which participants climb the stairs of a tall building up to the very top. With more than 100 races held annually across the United States – and with international circuits through the world’s most iconic skyscrapers – stair climbing is a budding sport that’s just warming up.
In search of the right physical activity that suited his lifestyle and interests, Joe, a family medicine doctor with Orlando Health Physician Associates, discovered stair climbing a few years ago.
“When I turned 50, I decided to walk the Disney Marathon,” Joe recalls. “It was cool to train and look forward to something, but I was kind of miserable doing it. It was hours of training and the event itself took hours. Then I tried cycling, and that was very time-consuming, as well. I did some research, and I found stair climbing. The training is manageable, the events are not hours long, and there’s opportunity to go all over the country and the world to climb tall buildings while enjoying a vacation with my wife.”
Joe tested his mettle running up and down the stairs at Lake Mary High School’s football stadium and progressed to flights of stairs at a local hotel. Soon after, he signed up for his first major stair climbing event at the Sydney Tower in Sydney, Australia. He began preparing for his new challenge with aggressive half-hour cross-training sessions, incorporating rowing, biking, and other exercises.
“I honestly had no idea how long the stair climbing event in Sydney would take me,” says Joe. “There’s no machine or even local building in Orlando that I could train on that would reproduce the stair climb I was going to do.”
After a 20-hour flight to Sydney and a good rest, Joe entered the 1,014-foot Sydney Tower and briskly climbed the building’s 1,504 steps in just 17 minutes.
“It was incredible,” Joe says. “What is so cool and unique about this sport is that when you’re walking towards the building, you’re seeing the entirety and enormity of what you’re about to accomplish. And when you reach the top, you’re left with an awe-inspiring view of the city below. Unlike running a 5K or a marathon, your finish line is a whole new perspective.”
And the best part of it all? Joe still had the rest of the day to spend with his wife, Jodi, enjoying a city they were visiting for the first time.
Despite a perception that stair climbing can be hard on the joints, Joe says the muscular action of climbing is not as bad as the pounding action on your knees when running.
“I’ve never felt any pain, so stair climbing really met what I was looking for – a sport that’s accommodating to my lifestyle and endurance level,” says Joe.
Last June, Joe also participated in the Tower Climb at One World Trade Center in New York City to commemorate 9/11 and honor the life and sacrifice of firefighter Billy Burke, an NYFD captain who gave his life on 9/11 to save other firefighters in his crew. The annual race is supported and organized by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. At 1,776 feet tall, One World Trade Center is the tallest building in the western hemisphere and sixth tallest in the world.
“That climb was a lot tougher than my first climb in Sydney,” says Joe, who took 2,226 steps to the building’s 102nd floor in an impressive 27 minutes. “I’m by no means an elite athlete, but I surprised myself with how quickly I did it, and I’m a little scared of heights! But it was fine, and when I got to the top, it was so invigorating because of the panoramic view of New York City. I was looking down on the top of the Empire State Building.”
This March, Joe and his wife will take a vacation to Dubai, a city known for its spectacular skyline of skyscrapers, including the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. While Joe says he has no immediate plans to scale the 2,722-foot-tall wonder, it might just be too hard to resist.
To learn more about competitive stair climbing, visit TowerRunning.com and VerticalCircuit.com.
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