First Person

Stepping Up—and Up and Up

In sets ranging from a few to 192, BYU’s stairs provide its trekkers a chance to sweat and make memories.

Guy and girl climbing the stairs while the guy is pulling on the girl's background
Illustration by Travis Foster

Worth the Weight

By Joanna Henriksen Pitzak (’98), Grants Pass, OR

When I lived off campus, I braved the RB stairs so frequently that I started dreaming about them! In the dream I was carrying a backpack full of my boyfriend’s heavy textbooks, and every time I got to the top of the 192 steps, I was told that I had to go back down and start again. I was trapped in a Sisyphean nightmare!

I told my boyfriend, Andrew S. Pitzak (BS ’95), about it, and we laughed at what was obviously a manifestation of school stress. The next day, as I was again climbing the RB steps, I noticed my backpack was getting heavier and heavier. At first I worried I was getting weaker but soon discovered it was my boyfriend, who had snuck up on me and was pulling down little by little on the pack. He thought he was hilarious. I still married him.

Twofer

By April Anderson Ficklin (BS ’97), St. George, UT

I spent many a day climbing and descending the Maeser Hill stairs from my off-campus apartment. One afternoon at the top of the stairs, I lifted my head to see two well-known male faces, each smiling flirtatiously. I’d been out on dates with each of them—at different times, of course—the week before.

“How are you feeling?” one asked.

The other quickly jumped in: “Where are you going?”

“I’m fine” and “Just to class,” I replied while walking briskly away. I wasn’t about to carry on a conversation with either of them together.

Crash Course

By Clark C. Doney (BS ’82), Essex Junction, VT

As a BYU freshman I lived south of campus. Every evening I would ease my trip home by sliding down the banisters. No hands with one arm full of books was the norm, and soon I didn’t think much of it. As fall semester progressed, it became quite dark by the time I made my way home.

On one such evening, my thoughts were wandering when I sat on the top banister. The next thing I knew, I was sprawled out on the landing, my books scattered. I slowly got up, dusted myself off, gathered my books, and tried to figure out what had happened.

Studying the next banister, I noticed that a thin coat of frost had developed on it. Could that be the reason? Books in hand, but wary this time, I sat on the next banister. I shot down that one as well but quickly bailed before a second crash landing. Lesson learned: beware of frost when riding the banisters!

Presidential Encounter

By Fred A. Mayer (BS ’73), Fort Valley, GA

As a freshman in 1968, I soon learned to despise the 192 stairs that stood between the RB and main campus. It seemed that a new step was added every time I climbed them. My attitude changed one morning when, trudging up the stairs and grumbling to myself, I heard the clomp, clomp, clomp of someone coming down two stairs at a time. I looked up just in time to see President Ernest L. Wilkinson (BA ’21) coming my way in a hurry. He passed me in a flash and continued on his way. He would have been 69 at the time. I vowed to never grumble again.

pregnant woman waiting for the elevator
Illustration by Travis Foster

Baby Steps

By Elaine Hales Harper (BS ’97, MAcc ’97), Gig Harbor, WA

As an accounting major at BYU, I spent a lot of time in the Tanner Building. For years I hiked up and down four flights of stairs several times a day. Each time I was tempted to take the elevator, I saw the sign discouraging students from using the one very small elevator and reminding them of the health benefits of taking the stairs.

During my last year, pregnant with my first child, I dutifully continued to climb those stairs. Just a few days before graduation, I went into labor. I had nearly completed a take-home final the night before but had just one more question to look up in a book that I had left in my locker in the Tanner Building. Determined to finish the course before having my baby, I insisted my husband stop at the building on the way to the hospital so I could complete my last question and turn in the final.

Pausing regularly for contractions, I again approached the daunting climb. But after doubling over in pain, I decided I deserved some long-awaited liberation. I rode the elevator, completed and turned in the final, and still made it to the hospital in time to deliver a healthy baby girl.

Eighteen years later, my daughter called me during her first semester at BYU: “Mom, these stairs in the Tanner Building are a killer.”

Loose Change

By Nathan A. Austin (BS ’05), Meridian, ID

Freshman year I lived in the northwest corner of Heritage Halls, and right outside my kitchen window were stairs leading to campus. My roommates and I decided to perform a social experiment: we glued a quarter to one of the steps, then waited and watched.

People’s reactions tended to fall into three categories. Upon attempting to retrieve the quarter, some would glance around to learn whether anyone had seen them fall for the prank. Others would crack a smile and make eye contact with us—often flashing a thumbs-up to acknowledge a trick well executed. But our favorite group included those who would stand up in a dignified manner and continue on their way without any outward sign that they had been duped.

These antics provided us with a solid week of entertainment until one sad day a student groundskeeper found the quarter and pried it up. Though she earned herself a bonus of 25 hard-earned cents, it had been worth far more to us.

Full Circle

By Glenda Day Mora (BA ’94, MA ’97), Hollister, CA

After hearing stories about the freshman 15, I determined that when I finished my swim-class workouts, I would run, not walk, up the RB stairs. Of course, it took me at least two months to make it up the steps without gasping like a landed fish. Still, I was very proud of myself when, toward the end of the semester, I was able to reach the top while maintaining my initial pace and recover my breath quickly. Once, as I emerged on that last step, a professor gazed at me bemused. I grinned cheekily at him. He shook his head and said, “Oh, the energy of youth!”

Never fear, Professor. Twenty-plus years later (ahem!), I have outgrown my youth, and I’m the one looking at my students’ energy in awe. My cheeky grin is untouched though.

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