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How To Be The Best Stair Climber In The West

Hundreds of climbers line up outside US Bank Tower to start their trek to the top. Photo by Caleigh Wells.
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Have you ever looked at one of L.A.'s tallest skyscrapers and thought, "Let's just take the stairs?"

Well, 4,000 people did just that on Friday for YMCA's 25th annual climb. This year it was at the US Bank Tower again, which has the tallest staircase west of the Mississippi.

Just how tall? 1,664 stairs. 75 floors.

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The downtown YMCA's executive director, Carol Pfannkuche, said the event raises money for its youth programs.

"We offer pre-school and after school enrichment programming for families who really need care but they can't really afford it," she said. "Participation is a donation to help make those programs possible."

It was about $760,000 worth of participation, making it their biggest event of the year.

It took most people around 25 minutes to reach the top. But some of them got up there in less than 10.

Johnny Garcia receives the first medal of the day. This is his 8th year, and he earned a new personal record of 9:22. Photo by Caleigh Wells.
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Good question. Meet Johnny Garcia.

He also goes by Johnny Rocket -- at least this time, since he scales the staircases about three times every year and goes by something different every time.

"Just Johnny," he said. "You know like Cher goes by one name, Prince ... yeah, just Johnny."

Before the race he was beating back butterflies. His time last year of 9:37 placed him 2nd. But he said he doesn't care about winning. He cares about beating himself.

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"I'm always thinking about my last time, and I just want to be able to beat that time. The goal for me is always to PR." (That stands for personal record, for all you amateur athletes.)

He was in a group called the elite climbers, which are participants who have qualified from past climbs to go before the event starts for everyone else. They flew in from all over the country and got to the top in under 15 minutes after intensive training.

But Johnny is a local from Silver Lake who calls himself a "borderline athletic regular person." And he doesn't exactly train like everyone else.

"I ride my bike to get around," he said. "I don't have a car, so I commute. I don't ride my bike for speed. I don't go out on the weekends for century rides. I just ride my bike to get around."

That commute, by the way, is a daily 36 miles round trip. He biked downtown Friday morning to get to the event. He said he hikes for fun, and he works out at the same Y that puts on the fundraiser.

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He said he paid the $125 registration fee for charity, but he climbed the stairs to challenge himself.

His big secret? When he's climbing, his mind his clear.

"I'm looking at the steps and looking at the rail and just thinking how do I minimize the number of steps that I'm taking," he said.

It's tempting to take two steps on the switchback platforms, he said, but that adds fractions of a second, and those add up.

As for me, I took the elevator to the top -- well, to floor 72 -- and then took the stairs the rest of the way. Which, by the way, got my quads burning.

When I got there, Johnny was the first to walk through the door onto the roof. He passed the guy in front of him just seconds before the clock stopped.

His time? 9:22 -- 15 seconds faster than his old PR.

And while his opponents lay on the concrete catching their breath, Johnny was still standing. His reaction to his broken record was lukewarm at best.

"My time says 9:22. It feels alright. I always feel like I could've pushed it more," he said.

But it wasn't 15 minutes before he was on the elevator, headed back down to the lobby. He had to switch out his number and climb up again. And then one more time after that.