Bloomfield Hills native David Garcia may be considered a "stair master" to the average person.
"I've done 54 stair races in 19 cities and in every time zone," said the 1997 Groves alum who moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in television. "I did the Renaissance Center a few years ago. I've done the Space Needle in Seattle, the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, One World Trade Center and others. I run about a dozen each year."
On March 15, Garcia was one of just 129 people to be selected to participate in La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel, an exclusive tower run up the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The race challenges participants to climb 1,665 steps up the 108 stories of the tower.
"There's no way I'm going to get the fastest time," he said before heading to Paris. "I'm embracing instead that this race is a really fantastic opportunity to show what I've done in my life over the past eight years, and celebrate changes I've made."
Garcia recalls the time in his life when he avoided stairs at all costs due to severe obesity he struggled with since childhood. In 2010, he weighed over 400 pounds. That's when he happened to meet fitness guru Richard Simmons while working as a producer on "Ellen." During the course of conversation, Simmons said he wanted to "help" Garcia.
"He didn't specifically say weight, but I knew that's what he meant because that's what he does," Garcia said.
Remembering the list of failed diets since middle school, Garcia dodged the question. Eventually, Simmons convinced Garcia to take a fitness class he was teaching, and the two worked out a plan that resulted in Garcia losing 160 pounds in a little over a year.
"I was working hard to keep off the weight, and I noticed everyone at the gym using the StairMaster is soaked in sweat," Garcia said. "I knew it burned a lot of calories, but it intimidated me. I gave it the side-eye for months, until I finally did five minutes on it. The next week I did 6 minutes, then eight."
Because the machine keeps track of how many stories you climb, Garcia began equating his workouts to landmarks he knew. After months of virtual tower running, Garcia entered his first run in April of 2012: a 63-story building in Los Angeles. He has been hooked since.
"It's so intense and so grueling, and I'm so hooked on it," he said. "It's miserable in a way that I really enjoy. It's so brutal, but with every step I take, I'm proving that I'm capable of doing these extraordinary things in my life."
To put the challenge into perspective, Garcia said the tallest point of the Detroit Renaissance Center is about 70 stories, a building he climbed in 11 minutes and 28 seconds. Consider also that 600 stories equates to about one vertical mile, another challenge he met that took him less than 150 minutes.
On March 15, Garcia finished his climb up the Eiffel Tower in 16 minutes and 17 seconds. While the time is several minutes behind that of the top power runners, it's a solid victory for him
"It has nothing to do with how I place," he said. "It's about keeping your mind open to the idea that really incredible things are out there waiting for you, and keeping your mind open to embracing them."