Many runners who hustled up the 870 steps of the First National Tower on Saturday morning passed Ann Hegstrom easily.
But they also rooted for her, called her a hero and later told her friend Lisa Shawler that she was an inspiration.
Hegstrom ascended the 40 floors on crutches, eliciting huge applause from volunteers and fellow runners once she made it to the top.
She broke her femur around Thanksgiving but didn’t want to miss her fourth time at the event.
“My goal was 20 flights,” said Hegstrom, 60, of De Soto, Iowa. “I felt too good at 20 to stop.”
The 10th annual Trek Up the Tower competition drew more than 2,000 participants, including Omaha police officers and firefighters from Bellevue, Lincoln, Omaha, Papillion, Waterloo and Sioux City, Iowa, who went up first in full gear.
“Climbing stairs is something we have to do for our job,” said Waterloo Firefighter Andrew Longwell, 29. “It gives us an extra opportunity to train,” and it’s “for a good cause.”
The race benefits WELLCOM, a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving workplace wellness.
Not surprisingly, Ivan Marsh of Ashland placed first, finishing in 4 minutes, 32 seconds. The 41-year-old has won all 10 of the races.
Morgan Chaffin, 32, of the Elkhorn area, won the female division with a time of 5:59.
Avid runner Sheila Holloway-Stovall, 52, completed the challenge a week before she runs her 15th half-marathon in New Orleans.
“It will either help me or hurt me,” she said.
Praveen Besta, 34, ran the stairs for the first time, along with a few other friends.
“Climbing up the stairs is not fun,” the Omahan said. “But I did enjoy it.”
Kim Nelson, 50, of Ceresco signed up for the race as a winter challenge to keep in shape. She ran up all 633 feet with a time of 11:13, beating her goal of 12 minutes.
The stairwell was fairly quiet, she said, except for the “heaving breathing” of huffing and puffing runners.
But at the finish, it’s all cheers and high-fives.
She has only one suggestion for next year to help runners’ morale as they climb.
“I think they need to cover up the numbers of the flights,” Nelson joked.
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