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    Step-by-step tips on climbing to the clouds

    The National Multiple Sclerosis Society
    Winchester’s Heidi Santa Cruz, competing for the Arlington Catholic Cougars, races through a hallway during the 2017 Climb to the Top Boston fund-raiser at Boston’s 200 Clarendon Tower.
    The National Multiple Sclerosis Society
    Boston’s Kimberly Post was in a celebratory mood during the 2016 Climb . . .

    Anyone who has dashed up a flight of stairs after discovering the elevator is broken can appreciate the requisite effort. Now, string together 61 flights, or roughly 1,200 stairs, and you’ve got Climb to the Top Boston, a National Multiple Sclerosis Society fund-raiser at the 200 Clarendon Tower March 3.

    But what does it take to arrive on the top floor relatively unscathed, so you can enjoy the views?

    “Personally,” said Watertown’s Hillary Monahan, 26, “I like to do anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes on the Stairmaster a few times each week at the gym, playing around with speeds and getting creative to make it a high-intensity interval training workout.”

    The National Multiple Sclerosis Society
    . . . as were Randolph’s Maria DaSilva, in the foreground, and Needham’s Elise Bender.

    Monahan was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, or MS, four years ago. The potentially debilitating disease attacks the central nervous system, disrupting the body’s internal information flow. For Monahan, battling MS means staying active.

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    “Movement is my sanity,” she said. “A diagnosis of MS at 22 years old led me to seek out activities that help me regain my power over a vicious disease that threatens to steal everything from me.”

    According to Lakeville’s Christy Burbidge, Monahan’s teammate on the Mindful Mountaineers, stair-climb events present distinct physiological challenges.

    The National Multiple Sclerosis Society
    MS patient Patrick “Batman” Garrett of Derry, N.H., here competing last year, says he’s done so for six years “to prove to myself what I’m capable of.’’

    “I was surprised at how my lungs felt at the end of the race – almost filled with fluid,” said Burbidge, 39. “I’ve done a Warrior Dash where I’ve injured my tailbone, and road races where I’ve hurt the next day. But the sensation in my lungs was unique to this climb. It made me stop and think of what people with MS and other chronic conditions experience every day.”

    Salem’s Dennis Levasseur, deputy chief with the Salem Fire Department, is one of many firefighters drawn to these events. He said he understands just how Burbridge feels.


    “The most difficult thing during a stair climb is breathing,” said Levasseur, 57. “I never really had a problem with my legs. Breathing heavy during the climb seems to make you breathe deep and fast using all of your lungs. Your lungs will tell you how hard they worked when you continue to cough for several hours after the event is over.”

    The Boston chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society offers several training pointers:

     Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Ask your apartment building manager for permission to use the stairwell or to do climb repetitions on several shorter flights of stairs. At the gym, rotate your workouts between treadmill and stair-climber. Boston-area residents can take advantage of the Bunker Hill Monument, which is open to the public and has 294 steps.

     Try different workout options and see what works. Pace yourself, since stair climbing uses different muscles than running and you’ll be sore the next day if you don’t ease yourself into training.

     Try climbing 8-12 flights of stairs, two steps at a time, at full speed, then rest/walk for 3-4 minutes (making sure you keep moving). Depending on your fitness, do four to 10 sets. Afterward, cool down for 10 minutes and stretch for another 10 minutes.


    Beverly’s Molly Andruszkiewicz, diagnosed with MS last year, described herself as a “casual weekend warrior.” She’s been following the society’s recommendations to prepare for her first star-climb event.

    “I’ve been keeping up with regular cardio as well as adding in extra flights of stairs at work and trips on the stair-climber at the gym,” said Andruszkiewicz, 29. “Hopefully it’s enough.”

    MS patient Patrick “Batman” Garrett, an East Boston product now living in Derry, N.H., has ramped up the “difficulty factor” with each successive event he’s participated in. Next month’s Climb to the Top will be his seventh. Last year, he did seven laps at Clarendon Tower, top-to-bottom, wearing a 100-pound weight vest for the first four laps.

    “My participation in MS events, as well as non-MS physical events, is all to prove to myself what I’m capable of,” said Garrett. “I also use all of my events as leverage for my fund-raising efforts. If I’m going to ask for their money, then I want to deliver something for their generosity.”

    Likewise, Monahan sees a dual purpose in her participation.

    “Participating in Climb to the Top Boston – especially as someone who has MS – is one way I like to raise awareness of what multiple sclerosis is and how it impacts the lives of those affected,” she said.

    “I want people to understand that 20-somethings get MS, too,” said Monahan. “I’ve heard ‘Oh, but you’re so young’ way too frequently. In reality, MS is most commonly diagnosed between 20 and 50. It’s also really important to understand that MS is a ‘snowflake disease’ – no two disease courses are alike.”

    For others, the event is simply an opportunity to test their limits.

    “I’m proud of myself for going outside of my comfort zone and signing up for this event,” said Braintree’s Michelle Taverna, 36. “I just want to complete it and prove I can do it.”

    The National Multiple Sclerosis Society
    Participants in the 2017 Climb to the Top event in Boston included, from left, Somerville’s Zanny Alter, Lakeville’s Christy Burbidge, Boston’s Cathy Maguire, Woburn’s Paula Keymont, and Watertown’s Hillary Monahan.

    For details on Climb to the Top Boston, visit, or call 1-800-344-4867. If you have an idea for the Globe’s “On the Move” column, contact correspondent Brion O’Connor at Please allow at least a month’s advance notice.