Fittest loser
Article posted: 11/12/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: Kirk, other Willis climbers inspire us all

John Starks/ Sen. Mark Kirk comes out of the stairwell to hug his mother on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower during the Skyrise Chicago climb to befefit the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

John Starks/ Sen. Mark Kirk comes out of the stairwell to hug his mother on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower during the Skyrise Chicago climb to befefit the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

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By The Daily Herald Editorial Board

He may not have climbed all 103 floors of the Willis Tower in 13 minutes, as one man did.

He may have climbed only the top 37 floors. But it was no less thrilling to see U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk cross the threshold of the Skydeck at the iconic Chicago skyscraper last weekend smiling and speaking with much of the capacity and confidence that he did before suffering a stroke on Jan. 21.


Many of us watched that from the comfort of our sofas, of course. The couch potato in us is impressed that anyone would get up early on a Sunday morning and make the effort to climb that many stairs. But some of the people who did the Skyrise Chicago climb did so despite missing limbs or despite having limbs that don't cooperate as much as they did before traumatic injuries.

Kirk made his climb with a brace on his left leg and without much use of his left arm. If he can do this, then the 45 stairs he'll need to climb to get to the Senate floor in Washington, D.C., will be a breeze.

This was a grand debut of sorts for the new Mark Kirk, who has been under wraps save for a series of video progress reports. It's taken nearly 10 months of surgeries and intensive physical therapy to get to this point.

About 2,700 other people also climbed the tower. And Kirk wasn't the only stroke victim. Several others made it to the top, tears of joy marking the accomplishment.

Some participants who couldn't climb because of paralysis hand-pedaled the equivalent of those 2,109 steps.

A Seattle man climbed the entire building with a bionic leg directed solely by his thoughts.

All of this was a fundraiser for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where Kirk has been on the mend. The effort raised $1 million for the rehab hospital.

The climb served as a testament to the marvels of modern science and the continued development of new therapy models and gizmos. But also to the indomitable spirit of the climbers to overcome or -- at the very least -- circumvent the challenges they've been dealt.

It's hard to imagine not cheering them all on.

But the event also served as a reminder of how fortunate we are to have such a world-class rehab hospital in our back yard.

U.S. News & World Report has named the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago the top rehab hospital in the country every year since 1991. Its newest unit opened in January, which gave Kirk an opportunity to match his personal determination with the services of a one-of-a-kind rehabilitation model.

Mike Klonowski, a physical therapist who worked with Kirk at the hospital, gave a lot of credit to the patient.

"He's a very driven individual, and we just needed to set the stage for him," Klonowski said.

But we already knew that.

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