Soon I was able to catch my breath. My brother, Lauren, and my training partner, Jeff, helped me slowly to my feet. My legs, weak from extreme fatigue, could barely hold my own weight. As I lifted my head the impact of my climb began to filter in. Excited people were everywhere and smiles lit up their faces as they continued to cheer. Pictures snapped and camera-crews filmed all in anticipation of my next steps, my first words.
As my eyes scanned the crowd I was suddenly transfixed on an image I will never forget. My mother stood motionless a short distance from me, her eyes red and cheeks stained with tears. I felt overcome with emotion as I realized, instinctively, she was crying not tears of joy or congratulations, but tears from a deep, abiding love - grateful that the climb was over and her son was safe. As my eyes met hers I struggled towards her. Grasping her in my arms I did my best to comfort her. I realized that I didn't need to impress her to win her love, I had it all the time. She looked up at me as I embraced her and whispered "Promise me that you'll never do something like this again." I promised.
The excitement all around me continued without let up. "Paul," a camera-man shouted, "there is a woman over here that wants to say something to you." I kissed my mother and followed him. At the top of the hill was another woman I would not soon forget. She was small in stature with beautiful brunette hair. She sat in a wheelchair with a friend standing nearby. She had cerebral palsy. As I approached she smiled. I bent down next to her as she began to speak to me, "I just wanted you to know that you're such an inspiration to me." I was taken aback. How could this small, yet courageous woman find inspiration in me? Looking back at her I smiled and replied, "Thank you, but you're the one who is an inspiration to me." I knew the climb I had just made almost defeated me but, it was only for 5 minutes, one day in my life. The climb she faced may have felt just as insurmountable but, she faced it every minute of every day in her life. And, she continues to conquer it. Our conversation was not long but it was very meaningful. I only wish I could tell you her name, it is still the one regret I have about that day. She is a wonderful example to us all. I hope we can all find that special inspiration which helps us conquer our own difficult climbs.
From the moment the idea of this climb entered my mind until today, 30 years later, I continue to be asked the same question,"Why?" - Why climb Lombard Street with 308 lbs. of weights on my shoulders? That will be the topic of my next post.