Would you climb 1,776 steps to raise money for charity? What if you were in a wheelchair? Julian Backhouse is in a wheelchair, but that isn’t stopping him from climbing the CN Tower this past April. He sent his wheelchair up on the elevator and climb the 1,776 steps to the top.
Backhouse scaled the tower for the first time last year as part of the World Wildlife Fund’s CN Tower Climb for Nature, raising $1000. This year, he hoped to raise double that, aiming for $2000. The 63-year-old grandfather of four from Mississauga, Ontario, uses his wheelchair most of the time.
He has Wilson’s disease, a rare genetic disorder in which copper accumulates in the tissues and results in neurological problems that affects physical strength and coordination.
Julian deals day-to-day with the lasting effects of Wilson’s disease, which has had him occasionally bedridden, and in and out of hospitals, rehab centers and nursing homes from 2008 to 2010. He is better now but still shuffles when he walks and finds flat land difficult to navigate. He says it feels like his feet are glued to the ground, so he uses the wheelchair to get around. But walking up stairs for some reason seems to trigger his movements.
Julian trained in his condo, which has ten flights of stairs. Going up ten times is equal to climbing the CN Tower, so he started training three months before the climb. He climbed ten flights twice a day, three times a week. Closer to the event, he increased it to five times a week.
In addition to the physical rigor of the climb, Julian has had to overcome his mental fear as well. Last year, he thought it would take him four hours to do the climb, and that created a mental barrier he had to break through. He even took a flashlight because he thought it might get dark before he finished. There is a landing at every flight of stairs, so every 12 steps he could move to the side, let people pass, and take a rest. For Julian, it was like climbing Mount Everest.
But the former athlete knew the climb was perfect for him and relished the thought of doing something physically challenging. With the effects of Wilson’s disease, the climb has beenvery humbling for him. By the way, Julian finished the race in one hour, 16 minutes last year and one hour, eight minutes this year.
The CN Tower, a concrete communications and observation tower is Toronto’s most famous landmark. Standing at 1,800 feet, it is the world’s third tallest tower and the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere. Its name “CN” originally referred to Canadian National, the railway company that built the tower.