Russ Gill is not your average athlete. He spends his days playing bass for the Columbus Symphony, dazzling crowds with masterful renditions of Bach and Beethoven a few nights each week. He teaches piano and cares for his elderly mother-in-law. And yet, on top of all that, he also earned a Guinness World Record in stair climbing. Twice.
Gill, who has completed 123 marathons – including 42 consecutive Boston Marathons, will return to the place where it all started this February for the American Lung Association’s Fight for Air Climb. The event will be held at Rhodes Tower, where Gill earned his first World Record title in 1994 by climbing 53 times for a cumulative vertical height of 26,712 feet.
“My primary identity is a stairclimber,” Gill says. “But the reason I started is a funny one. I saw an editorial in the newspaper about an upcoming climb for charity in 1982. The prize for being the top fundraiser was a free trip to Toronto. I took the challenge, won, and, basically, honeymooned for free!”
After that, Gill was hooked. He spent hours training on the track and the Stairmaster until he was climbing at a competitive pace. He competed at climbs and marathons across the country before setting his eye on the record books.
“Setting a record comes down to two things. Obviously, you have to train like crazy. Second, you need to document everything. I think I sent Guinness 20 or so pages of documents after setting the world record the first time in 1990, including blueprints of the building to confirm the vertical height of one climb.”
Gill has gone on to compete in 28 competitive climbs, climbing over 1 million stairs and raising over $300,000 for charity. Now 64 years old, he’ll be returning to the Rhodes Tower for the Fight For Air Climb to help raise money for research and support of the work of the American Lung Association for those living with lung disease.
“Almost everyone can climb stairs at their own pace, but having healthy lungs certainly makes it easier,” Gill says. “I’ve been blessed with extremely good health, so giving back to those who need it motivates me.”
Gill’s enthusiasm inspires other climbers at the event. “Russ is a giver,” says Brittany Sinzinger, Development Manager at the American Lung Association in Ohio’s Columbus office. “He wants to change the world. He brings so much encouragement and energy to the event. He loves to climb and he loves to be heathy, but he also cares about the lung disease and he cares about helping others. It’s very inspiring.”