Twenty years ago, Rich White was in the prime of his life.
A two-time All-American hurdler for Pittsburg State University’s track team, he was physically fit, at the peak of endurance, and never thought about words such as “hypertension” and “cholesterol.”
Then, a career as a software applications designer/developer landed him in a sitting position for at least eight hours a day.
“After college, I just stopped. I was sitting in front of a computer and got really out of shape. Not in looks, but inside,” he said.
High blood pressure runs in his family, as does high cholesterol. As he began watching his children — Rachel, 7, Dylan, 11, and Drew, 12 — grow and develop, he feared poor fitness might cause him to miss out on their future.
“When you start having kids, you start thinking about it.”
At age 38, White got the wake-up call he needed.
“My parents began pushing me to go to the doctor and get checked out,” he said. “I had high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and I didn’t want to go on medicine.”
White tried to start a running regime.
“I was just trying to stay alive. But I realized I wasn’t the kind who could just take off and run two or three miles. I got bored,” he said.
So he turned to something he believed would give him both the mental and physical challenge he needed in order to follow through with a fitness regime: Stairs.
“Stairs make you pay attention,” he said.
In Pittsburg, the highest flights of stairs open to the public are those in Carnie Smith Stadium on the PSU campus.
Research backs up White’s exercise choice. Studies found:
• A significantly lower risk of mortality occurred when participants climbed more than 55 flights of stairs per week.
• Stair climbing was found to burn about 8 to 11 calories of energy per minute — high compared with many other physical activities.
• Stair climbers tend to be more fit and have a higher aerobic capacity.
• Stair climbing has been shown to improve the amount of “good” cholesterol in the blood — raising HDL (high-density lipoprotein) concentrations.
“That was in about November or December of 2009,” White recalled of beginning his stair climbing, “and I could, at that time, only do 30 flights in a workout before I could just not go on.”
“Then there was the new year. That whole next year (2010), I started getting into shape.”
He had no goal and wasn’t officially counting, but he believes he did about 9,000 flights.
He eventually was able to conquer 100 flights in one workout.
“I’ll never forget it, because I was 40,” he said. “I’d never done 100 flights.”
In 2011, he did set a goal.
“I wanted to try to get 14,000 flights,” he said. “I made it realistic. I planned what I thought I could do in a week.”
It is a challenge to make time in between helping coach some of his children’s sports teams and spectating at others, but he dedicates 45 minutes three nights a week to his workouts.
“That’s one nice thing about this type of workout is you can do a lot in 45 minutes,” he said. “It gets your heart rate up higher, and you get interval rest in between.”
White doesn’t go for speed: “I just want to get them in.”
He recovers during the short time it takes to go between the flights he runs on one end of the stadium to the flights he runs on the other end. Every 30 flights, he does a lap around the track to further recover. In 2011, those miles added up, too, to roughly 700.
He accomplished this year’s goal with about two weeks to spare.
In height, White’s accomplishment compares to climbing Mount Everest more than four times, or climbing to the top of the Empire State Building and back down again nearly 42 times.
“A few hundred flights a week adds up fast,” he said.
In 2012, White has a new goal: “I plotted it out, and this year I’m going to go for 15,000 flights,” he said.
In September, he also plans to run in and complete the Tough Mudder Missouri, part of an international event that bills itself as a “hard core, 10-12 mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit and camaraderie.”
“Three years ago,” White said, “I would have never been able to do this.”
Rich White’s tips
• Set a reasonable, slow goal: “A goal that sounds doable, but with something you know you can stick with,” said White.
For his wife, Deonna, stairs just didn’t cut it.
“My wife has come out and walked them, but they’re not for her, so she didn’t stick with it.”
• Listen to your body: “I had several miles I ran and wasn’t getting enough protein, so I was really weak,” White said.
• Document progress: “I use Google docs spreadsheets and log them, usually right after a workout in my car using my smart phone,” White said.