26 March 2024

'It's tough, rewarding and over quickly.' Why Canberra corporates keep coming back to the Stair Chase

| Dione David
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Menslink CEO Ben Gathercole congratulates the fastest woman in the 2023 Geocon High Society Stair Chase, Ellen Bradley of BAL Lawyers. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

As Ed Sperry took stock of the 27 storeys he was about to climb for the 2023 Geocon High Society Stair Chase, it occurred to him that he had not trained in preparation at all.

High Society – Canberra’s tallest residential towers – loomed as he contemplated a strategy for climbing the 113 vertical metres of stairs to the top, where glory and barbecue awaited.

“My plan of attack was to pace myself,” he says.

As he found out, it mattered little. Like the other 80 or so people representing businesses across Canberra, his legs started feeling heavy about a quarter of the way up; by halfway, they were jelly, and by the 20th storey, it was hard to tell which burned more – his lungs or quads.

But all was forgiven with the elation of reaching the 27th floor, somewhere in the middle of the pack.

“I was far from first but, from my perspective, I’d had a good run, and the top had come a lot sooner than I had expected,” he says.

“Honestly, had I walked up the stairs and come dead last, it would still have been awesome. That’s the nature of this event – it’s a tough challenge, but rewarding, and it’s over quickly.”

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Hosted by Canberra developer Geocon, the Stair Chase challenge is an annual fundraising event for the volunteer-run counselling, education and mentoring service Menslink.

Menslink CEO Ben Gathercole says events like these, held by the local business community, are critical to the organisation’s ability to deliver its services in Canberra and its environs.

“Our services will always be free, and without this kind of initiative, we wouldn’t survive,” he says.

“Unfortunately, demand always outstrips our ability to supply our services. It was that way before COVID and is certainly true post-pandemic.”

The Stair Chase is gruelling but invariably worth it. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

The Stair Chase, which this year takes place on Tuesday, 7 May, hopes to raise $20,000 for Menslink and is on track to becoming one of the organisation’s most iconic events.

“Being a Geocon concept, its origins are with Canberra tradies and it’s a much-loved event in that community. But over the years, it has expanded to the peripheral service groups, and everyone from media professionals to lawyers have been happy to jump in,” Ben says.

Like BAL Lawyers’ Ellen Bradley. The avid ultra-runner, who is used to distances of more than 42 km (including in mountainous areas), was the fastest woman in the Stair Chase last year, with a time of 3 minutes and 13 seconds.

But she says the glory was not in that win.

“Menslink is a phenomenal Canberra charity doing crucial work with young men. It needs support from all corners of the community. My fellow BAL teammates and I were happy to participate because the health and well-being of young men in Canberra is important,” she says.

“When life gets difficult, you must put one foot in front of the other, physically and mentally. The Stair Chase reflects their struggles.

“It’s hard running up that kind of incline, but when it gets difficult, it’s important to think of why you’re doing it. I know what some young men go through every day is more gruelling than climbing 27 storeys.”

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Ed will be returning this year with a new strategy.

“I’m going to cane it up the stairs,” he says. “I know my legs will fatigue, and I’ll be gassing after the first few flights, but I also know I’ll be up the top before I know it, and the feeling up there will be tremendous.”

Whether you’re a seasoned trail runner or winging it, whether you come first or last, it’s worth a go, he reckons.

“Don’t be daunted. Go as slow as you like; take as long as you need to reach the top.”

The Geocon High Society Stair Chase for 2024 takes place on Tuesday, 7 May, at 7 am. Register as an individual or team before Monday, 1 April.


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