Michelle Homme and Stacey Centarri have perfectly good, modern elevators available to them when they arrive for work at OPPD.
Yet every time they report to the utility’s Huddle Space in Aksarben Village, the women walk past a full line of them just so they can trudge up 10 flights of stairs to the office, often with baggy winter coats, lunch bags, backpacks and whatever else they need for the day.
On Saturday, all of that training paid off for the women as they joined more than a dozen OPPD employees for the 2023 Trek Up the Tower in downtown Omaha. Just like Rocky charging up the stairs in Philadelphia, many OPPD employees spent days, weeks, even months preparing for the 40-story, 870-step stairwell climb inside the First National Bank Tower.
“It’s just one step at a time,” said Homme, a co-captain of OPPD’s team along with Centarri. “It doesn’t matter if I have 10 flights to go or one flight to go.”
Trek Up the Tower is the region’s biggest vertical stair climb, hosted by The Wellbeing Partners, a group that works to address community health issues and provides worksite wellness training, support and other services.
The event, in its 17th year, was held virtually in 2021 and 2022, but returned to the tower this year. OPPD’s team included 17 employees.
The event also coincides with American Heart Month, an effort to promote heart health. Most participants opt for the 40-story climb, but ambitious climbers can also try the “vertical mile,” where they climb their stairs 10 1/3 times.
The stair climb hits home for Homme, a continuous improvement leader at OPPD. A few years ago, her doctors warned that she was at risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Startled by the news, Homme started eating better and exercising regularly. Small, consistent changes snowballed into big results. The turnaround surprised even her doctor, who told her she should be able to stop taking medications by this May.
Over time, Homme tackled progressively greater challenges and adventures. She ran a marathon in 2016, a feat that only a small fraction of people have ever accomplished. She also learned to scuba dive and went tandem skydiving in 2015. Each challenge helped her grow as a person, maintain her health and experience a more vibrant, fulfilling life.
“I’ve purposely challenged myself to do hard and scary things,” she said. “I’m not an adrenaline junkie. But the rewards I have received have just been phenomenal.”
For Centarri, an OPPD wellness specialist, the stair climb is a great opportunity to exercise in a fun, supportive, nonthreatening environment. Some participants are uber-fit and race up the stairs with mind-blowing speed. Others just want to finish, ascending the tower at their own pace and taking frequent breaks. Both approaches are admirable, and everyone gets the same beautiful view at the top.
“Trek Up the Tower is sometimes a little overwhelming and scary,” Centarri said. “But it’s amazing what your body can do when you put your mind to something.”
Staying fit has paid big dividends for Centarri, allowing her to run 17 marathons throughout the country. It also brings her a sense of balance, helping her keep a clear head in both work and life.
“It’s good for your overall well-being and how we feel about ourselves,” she said.
Jaclyn Arens, a digital channel specialist at OPPD, completed her first Trek up the Tower on Saturday with her parents and other family members who have participated in past years. Arens trained for the event on a stair-climbing machine at the gym, but wasn’t sure she had done enough. She was pleasantly surprised to discover the climb wasn’t as bad as she expected.
“It was pretty fun!” she said.
OPPD placed 10th in the event’s Large Business Corporate division, with an average time of 11:52. Terry Comstock, an OPPD electrical services designer, completed the trek in 7:18, finishing 30th overall and 4th out of 20 stair-climbers in his age division. Roger Parkison, a unit operator at North Omaha Station, finished in 8:04.
OPPD’s team included Homme, Centarri, Arens, Comstock, Parkison, Shari Huebner, Amy Hall, Wendy Tallman, Khien Pham, Mel Palmer, Todd Langford, Jessica Ulrich, Loc Pham, Meagan Wallace, Shari Thompson, Khien Pham and Mohammed Amrollahi.
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