After my first red-eye flight, followed by my first significantly delayed, and, ultimately, cancelled flight, I finally landed in Philadelphia on the afternoon of Friday, July 27th.
My journey to the City of Brotherly Love actually began a few years earlier when, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, Darrell and I sat at the kitchen table and watched a Rocky movie marathon on Darrell’s laptop. Something about the scene where Rocky runs up the steps, which I later learned were at Philadelphia’s Museum of Art, with others joining him sparked something within me.
A little voice whispered, “I want to do that!” My initial response was “Yeah, right. Sure. How the heck am I going to do that? Get real.” I didn’t even tell Darrell because it was too crazy; and I’ve told him some pretty crazy stuff over the years. The thing is, once that little voice says something, unhearing it is not an option.
Fast forward to March 2010: I was in San Diego to present at the 26th Annual International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference (CSUN 2010). While exploring the Exhibit Hall and other displays, I came across a table of information about ISAAC: the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. I hadn’t even heard of ISAAC until that moment, which I thought was odd since I’m was now using my iPad for communication and was being drawn into the AAC community. I also learned their 15th Biennial Conference was to be held in Pittsburgh in July 2012. The young volunteer gave me a flyer about the conference and said, “Hope to see you in Pittsburgh.” Something about her genuine tone of voice planted another seed.
Given my limited American geography, I knew, at least, that Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were in the same State. Close enough. I quietly added “Climb the stairs at Philadelphia Museum of Art with the spirit of Rocky Balboa” to my bucket list more than a year ago.
Since the thought of attending ISAAC was now zinging around inside my head, I figured I might as well contribute to the conference conversation. I spent weeks writing a presentation proposal and submitted it. I didn’t hear anything. Then, with the deadline for submissions only two hours away, I decided to submit a second proposal, which was a quick copy-n-paste job from previous content I had written and I slapped on the cheesy title “The New AAC: Glenda’s Life-Changing Story Starring the iPad”. Wouldn’t you know it: the quick n dirty submission was accepted. Is there a lesson here?
I now had a reason to be in Pittsburgh. What was a few extra hundred miles and a few extra hundred dollars to stop by Philadelphia first?
On May 17th, 2012, I wrote a blog post to put “out there” my crazy idea of climbing the steps at Philadelphia’s Museum of Art in the spirit of Rocky Balboa. What followed was a flurry of tweets and emails: a tweet by my web accessibility colleague and friend John Foliot led to Kel Smith putting the wish-granting organization Wish Upon A Hero in touch with me. From there, Director of Wish Granting JamieLynn Storch worked her magic. People were coming from all directions to be involved. Plans were put into place. It was very exciting and somewhat overwhelming, and to think it all started with a seemingly crazy idea.
Even though I arrived at the Philadelphia airport three hours late, Wish Upon a Hero founder Dave Girgenti and Director of Programs Ryan Rendfry were there, as planned, to pick me up in the wish-granting hummer. Yes, a hummer!
I checked into Le Meriden, a posh boutique hotel in the heart of downtown and a mere mile away from the Museum of Art. I would definitely stay there again, if given a chance, because it was so nice not needing to fight with a so-called accessible room. The hotel gets physical accessibility.
Given that I hadn’t had an actual meal in I don’t know long, I then went searching for food, which is always a daunting task when alone in an unfamiliar city. Unfortunately, because of my late arrival, I missed the Amish sticky buns at the Reading Terminal Market, as highly recommended by my friend Char James-Tanny. However, I did happen across the Italian restaurant Maggiano’s, which seemed a fitting connection to the Italian Stallion, and with Glenda-friendly pasta on the menu. Bonus! I loaded up on carbs for energy for the next day, but decided to forgo drinking the six raw eggs the next morning; I wasn’t aiming for that much of an authentic re-enactment.
Not only was I famished, but I was also very thirsty. When I travel, I limit fluid intake because I do not have easy, if any, access, to a washroom while in the air. And, my unexpected extended trip meant an extended time without much to drink. With a glass of iced tea and a glass of water on the go, I was a two-fisted drinker that night!
With it still light out after supper, I went on a short photo wheel around the area — something I had forgotten I had done until I got home and went through my photos. (Yes, it was a seemingly long trip!)
At the corner of 16th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, I was surprised to see what I assumed (and later confirmed) to be the Museum of Art. It was humongous! I was so tempted to go a few blocks further to get a closer look, but I didn’t want to spoil anything for the next morning. Besides, I still had to finish the email interview for the Philadelphia Inquirer reporter.
The next morning began rather early, especially given the three hour time difference. But I didn’t mind: excitement was building!
My walk along the Ben Franklin Parkway was pleasant and reminded me of my day in Washington DC — minus security noticeable everywhere.
Breakfast ended up being a few bites of a dry croissant and couple sips of juice across from the museum; not quite what I had envisioned before such a physical activity. Mysteriously, the croissant, juice and bottle of water then disappeared somewhere in the excitement. That’s how it goes sometimes.
"I am going to do what? Are you kidding me?"
But seriously, those steps are rather intimidating when staring up at them. For a nanosecond, I questioned what I was about to do. When the newspaper reporter asked how I was feeling right before we started, I replied, “Nervous.” Now was not the time to trip over my own feet, which has been known to happen.
The first step I took, with H.E.R.O. (Hero Emergency Response Operation) Justin Jack and Ryan, was rather wobbly and I am sure everyone was thinking, “Oh, ya, this is going to take a while.” I was certainly thinking that.
But once the Rolling Trumpet Ensemble from Rowan University struck the first few notes of the Rocky theme song “Gonna Fly Now” — yes, a band! –
and I found my feet…I felt like I floated up the first two levels!
After a quick sip….
Rocky Spirit author Felice Cantatore and Rocky impersonator Mike Kunda helped me the rest of the way. (Does Mike look like Rocky or what?!)
An increasing number of supporters cheered with each step I took…
This video shot by one of the 40-50 (or more) bystanders captures a majority of the climb:
Apparently we only took 7 minutes to reach the top of the 72 steps. (Karen, Craig and I took half an hour to reach the top of the 81 stairs at the Robson Square Zipline. We must have stopped for coffee along the way.)
(Yes, you do see my scooter in the right side of the photo. Three big, strong guys from the Rocky Spirit team carried my scooter up the Rocky steps so that I had a place to sit once I reached the top. The wheelchair ramp went only so far.)
Once I had nearly caught my breath again, the reporter asked how I was feeling in the moment. I uttered, “Awesome” mainly because it was the easiest word to say. But, in actuality, the word was “Indescribable!”
Indescribable because so many small moments had been pieced together to create that one moment and because so many people had played a role. I now had a view of Philadelphia that I had only seen in a 33 year old movie. How many people get the opportunity to experience that?
In my lifetime I have always made my own path, taken the road less travel, mainly because there was no one out in front leading the way for me. For a brief moment, it was nice to stand in someone else’s shoes — or footsteps — to absorb everything that Rocky represents.
One of my favourite photos of the day…
…standing between Rocky impersonator and author of Cue the Rocky Music, Mike Kunda, and boxing champion who went fifteen rounds with Mohammed ALI, Chuck Wepner, the inspiration for the Rocky movies. Can life get any better than this?!
Apparently, it can! After being in town for less than 48 hours, Kristin Holmes’ article about my climb appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The hotel concierge gave me his Sunday newspaper to treasure.
I would like to sincerely thank everyone — many of whom were mentioned here, many more were not — who were involved in making this day indescribable. I am truly appreciative and will cherish the memories in my heart for many, many years to come. Thank you.
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