Meet Bill Ekse and the first impression might be one of a soft-spoken father, an unassuming-looking man. But talk to him and it’s clear he has his own passions that drive him and make him who he is.
One of those passions appears to be the memory of his friend, Chris Pettersen, who he grew up with in Mill Creek.
Pettersen was the kind of person who inspired his friends to do all sorts of things on the spur of the moment, such as going rock climbing at midnight, just for the sake of getting in one more climb.
“We were a real group,” Ekse said about his old gang from Cascade High School’s class of 1992. “We did everything together.”
But that changed when the clean-living Pettersen was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma at age 22. It changed Pettersen’s life, eventually resulting in its end during a bone-marrow transplant, but it also changed Ekse’s life.
“It was a tough loss for all of us,” Ekse said. “I stopped by the hospital once, and he said he wanted to go for one more walk, one more climb. He made this impression that no matter what, you can’t do enough.”
It is with that in mind that Ekse is going to honor the memory of his late friend by going for a 24-hour stair step world record, all while trying to raise $15,000 for The Leukemia &Lymphoma Society, which sponsors the annual Columbia Tower climb in Seattle, an event Ekse has participated in since becoming a Fire District 7 firefighter nearly eight years ago.
“I just want to support them,” said Ekse, a Brier resident. “I think it’s a good cause.”
Ekse’s climb, for which no official Guinness world record currently exists, is from 1 p.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 18-19 at Central Market in Mill Creek Town Center.
It is an effort that will test Ekse’s mettle in a lot of ways, but talking to him, it almost seems that his biggest concern is making his fund raising goal rather than obtaining the world record. As of March 13, he had raised $1,965, mostly through word-of-mouth and a link on Snohomish County Fire District 7’s Web site.
“We’re hoping to make it,” Ekse said. “The day of the event we’ll be taking donations.”
Of course, during the attempt, Ekse will face his own share of physical and mental challenges. He will be on the stair stepper for 90 minutes at a time, with five-minute breaks in between sessions. He will attempt to keep his heart rate at 130 beats per minute, because going higher will cause him to tire out. He will have an MP3 player with him, but he acknowledges that music becomes a problem, because some songs can cause him to quicken his pace.
“It’s important to keep that balance,” he said. “I’ll have someone there to make sure my heart rate stays where it needs to be.”
He also will have a DVD player, but he admits to being unsure about whether or not he’ll be able to watch any movies.
“I’m assuming I’m going to be busy enough,” he said. “The guys in the department have been very supportive. Overnight, my guess is what they’ll be doing is playing poker.”
Marathon tests of physical endurance are nothing new to Ekse, however. In addition to the Tower Climb, he has also done the Seattle-to-Portland bike ride. That kind of fitness background helped him prepare for his record attempt.
“I’d train sometimes for up to eight hours a day,” he said. “I learned how to eat and drink on the machine. I do it at work.”
The figures for the climb seem staggering, but Ekse seems like he’s not all that troubled with it. He estimates he’ll burn approximately 16,000 calories during his try, and he’ll keep himself fueled with nutrition bars, vitamin-fortified water to maintain electrolyte balance and his “secret weapon” – cheeseburgers from Dick’s Drive-In.
“It works well for me,” he said.
But Ekse admits there is some uncertainty.
“It’s a big endeavor. I’m not sure what the last few hours will bring,” he said. “I have spoken with others who’ve done it before and they’ve shared what it’s like. Some got sick, others got real emotional.”
And as if seeing a man attempt a stair stepping record in honor of a childhood friend isn’t incentive enough for people to come out, watch and donate to the cause, Ekse has arranged for several Mill Creek Town Center merchants to donate gift cards ranging from $25-$50 to be raffled off during his effort.