They’re the tops

Stories abound these days about formidable feats of physical endeavour. We read constantly of records being broken by baseball players, hockey stars, runners, cyclists, all lithe of limb, and often full of themselves as they pose for the cameras and collect their big paycheques.

This story, however isn’t about some testosterone-pumped athlete, but rather about people “of an age” who do quite remarkable things, and not for the glory… or the money. People like Bill Fischer, 68, who every year competes in the United Way’s biggest fundraising event — the CN Tower climb. Now celebrat-ing it’s 22nd year, almost 60,000 people have participated in the climb — sponsored by Royal Mutual Funds — raising over $1.8 million for the United Way. Climbers as young as two years, and as old as 77 have reached the top, where they receive an exclusive T-shirt with a record of their time (the average ascent is 30 minutes). The record climb to date is seven minutes, 52 seconds, and one of the weirdest was the two chaps from London, Ont., who carried a fridge and stove all the way to the top.

With very little fanfare, Bill Fischer has climbed the tower four years in a row… and we’re taing 1,776 stairs. The oldest climber to date, Miklos Emhecht, 78, is no slouch either. He climbs every year, and last year accomplished the feat in just over 23 minutes. On her first attempt last year, Dorothea Drennan, 69 made it in 29 minutes while husband Phil, 68, made it in 23 min-utes. Being of a certain age myself, I was intrigued by these particular individuals. How do they keep so fit? What motivates them to attempt so daunting a task?

Miklos Emhecht, a three year veteran of the stair climb, is ready for this year’s CN Tower assault (the climb takes place Oct. 16 and 17). Miklos says he’s been exer-cising for 50 years and has a regular routine of walking about 13 kilometres three times a week. This prepares him, and makes the tower climb a “walk in the park.” His first tower walk, when he was 74, took 49 minutes, the next year 40 minutes, then last year 23 minutes. When asked what motivated him to attempt these climbs, he says it was the charity aspect that appealed most. He finds eager sponsors, and last year raised $500 for the United Appeal. Each year — just to be sure he’s up to scratch — he gets a physical and a stress test, and his doctor’s comment is “Mick, you are disgustingly healthy.”

Being fit is just one of his pursuits. Emhecht teaches piano, mando-lin, he’s a composer — his “symphonic poem” will be performed in Toronto on Oct. 9th — and he also does motivational speeches. Last year he married again after being a widower for 11 years. It’s an abso-lute tonic to talk to this gentleman with his zest for life. Indeed, Emhecht left me with two memorable sayings: “Life is too short not to be Hungarian” and “Life is never over until your six feet under.”

When Angus, Ont., resident Bill Fischer retired at 61, keeping fit became an increasingly important factor in his life. Although not a fanatic — he does no advance training for the annual stair climb — Fischer has done the climb in less than 25 minutes. Fischer says he does it because it gives him something to brag about, yet he seems modest beyond belief about this yearly accomplishment.

Phil and Dorothea Drinnen have also always adhered to a keep fit regime. Phil was a runner and a soccer player, and even now is a regular at his health club. It was there where they he heard about the United Way stair climb tower walk and decided to give it a try. Not quite content with his first attempt, Phil has since done it in 20 minutes.

But whatever their age, whatever their background, the one prominent characteristic of these senior “tower walkers” is their belief that “age is a state of mind”. And with their optimistic view of life, as well as their staying in good physical shape, they feel confident when attempting these challenging tasks.

Actress Bette Davis, once commented: “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” Miklos Emhect, Bill Fischer, and Dorothea and Phil Drennan are definitely not sissies. They’re indomitable, and are shining examples of what regular exercise — especially walking — a sensible diet, plus a positive attitude can do to help combat the encroaching years.

As for me? Sitting around listening to old Sinatra records is all well and good, but… well, maybe a new pair of Reeboks could get me started up those 1,776 steps.