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Cancer survivor Kalksma scales heights as Nicholas E. Colleluori Award winner at annual @HEADstrongFnd Gala

Sunday, 11th March 2018

Categories Boy's/Men's, Girl's/Women's, HEADstrong  

By Chris Goldberg, Posted 3/11/18

Sally Kalksma understands that many don’t know much about her sport – competitive stair climbing – but says very few fitness events can compare.

Nicholas E. Colleluori honoree Sally Kalksma (third from left) is joined at the 8th Annual HEADstrong Lime Light Gala by family members (from left)Rob McDowell, Paula Kalksma, Linda Schlachter, Marion Cavallaro, Rick Fromuth

“I have done triathlons and marathons and stair climbing is the most difficult, but the most rewarding,” she said. “When you get to the top and look out and see what you have accomplished with the view – you say, ‘I just did this’ – you get such a runner’s high for so long!”

For Kalksma, scaling steps has helped her overcome obstacles, and she believes seizing new opportunities has helped her reach her greatest heights.

On Friday, the 55-year-old Pine Beach, N.J., woman was honored with the prestigious Nicholas E. Colleluori Award at the 8th annual HEADstrong Foundation Limelight Gala at the Hilton Philadelphia Penn’s Landing.

Kalksma, is a survivor of Multiple Myeloma whose powerful story continues to inspire many across the country. Kalksma overcame the loss of her husband who succumbed to cancer by becoming a competitive stair climber, earning her an International Ranking from the World Tower Running Association.

She was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in 2008 and last February underwent a stem cell transplant. Less than 6 months later, she was running up the steps of the Bennington Monument and tonight she boards a plane to France as she prepares to be the only American out of 40 racers to compete in an invitation-only race up the Eiffel Tower in Paris on March 15.

Kalksma, who was always heavily into fitness, began running up towers by accident following her husband, Pete’s passing.

“After my husband passed, I went back to work full time and got a job in a basement sitting all day,” she said. “I felt like this caged animal.

“So, at lunch I started to run up the stairs. After work I would still do my running and lifting – I had been a life long runner. I had been very involved in the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and I told them what I was doing and they said, ‘Sally, we have bids to the Empire State Building Run Up.’

“I did it and it was the hardest thing I ever did. I said I would never do it again. But I got hooked and started doing it more. It’s exhilarating.”

Kalksma’s fastest time up the Empire State Building (she has scaled the 1,576 steps five times since 2012) is 18 minutes, 1 second.

“It’s only a quarter mile, but you are pulling your body straight up, running up stairs two at a time using handrails and your arms.”

Kalksma said her cancer diagnosis in 2008 was different than most. Her blood levels were low enough that she did not require serious treatment until one day in 2016 when her doctor said she had reached critical levels. On Feb. 2, 2017, she had a stem cell transplant and spent nearly a month in the hospital. During that time she met directors of the HEADstrong Foundation, including President Cheryl Colleluori.

“When I was in the hospital I would do laps around the hall to stay in shape and I saw a poster on Nick Colleluori and read about him,” she said. “I was touched as a patient and a parent (of three children) and to see what he did.

“I was invited to an ice cream social on Valentine’s Day in the hospital put on by the HEADstrong Foundation and got to meet Cheryl. Also, my son played lacrosse (at Toms River South) and got all the lime green bands so I knew about the Foundation.”

Kalksma, who has also scaled the Willis Tower (Sears Tower), Rockefeller Center, the Comcast Tower and many other buildings in Philadelphia among her 50 competitive climbing races, said she is racing at the Eiffel Tower in Nick’s honor Thursday night.

“I never been there and I can’t wait to get a hold of those stairs,” she said.

What message does Kalksma give?

“I tell everybody to have a sense of humor; life is too short to be down,” she said, “Things will always get better and it might not be tomorrow or next week or next year. You might be in a slump for a while, but eventually things will get better and those days when everything seems complacent – those are good days.

“You take those for granted but those are good days and you have to appreciate those days. Also, accept people’s health, but never have self pity. You don’t know what people are going through; they could be going through a lot worse than you are.”

Become you’re own healthcare advocate. Learn everything you can. When I was diagnosed with MM, I became very involved with the MMRF. Not only do they spearhead new therapies but they but they welcome patient involvement too.

After Kalksma returns from Paris she plans to compete in the Fight for Air Climb Philadelphia on March 24 at Three Logan Square, a 50-floor, 1,088-step venture.

“I say live every day like it’s your last,” said Kalksma. “With my multiple myeloma, could I have 1 year, 3 years, 5 years. Who knows, I could go out and get hit by a bus.

“Live each day and take advantage of every opportunity, no matter how small, or how big. You’re only on this planet once. Say, yes, don’t waste it.”


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