“It ain’t how hard you hit… It’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. It’s about how much you can take and keep moving forward!” – Rocky Balboa in Rocky.
Cities are known for their iconic images. One picture of the Golden Gate Bridge and the viewer knows the story he is about to see is set in San Francisco. Show the White House and you know you are in DC, Big Ben and you are in London. And show someone running up 72 stone steps and everyone will know you are in Philadelphia.
The steps are at the entrance to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia’s answer to Paris’ Champs-Élysées. The museum was planned and built with the idea that the entire mile length of the Parkway would be visible from the entrance. Back in 1928 the trustees of the Museum couldn’t have imagined that a movie about a boxer would carry its name worldwide. But that’s what happened.
Rocky, filmed in a month on a shoestring budget, made a fortune at the box office, earned three Academy Awards, and made Sylvester Stallone a star. And by a stroke of luck the movie also gave Philadelphia one of its greatest tourist attractions. The daybreak scene of Stallone running up the Art Museum steps and turning to face the sun rising over the city was a last- minute location find, but it made the film. If you’ve never seen it, watch:
“Running the steps” became a tourist tradition on visiting Philadelphia as a result of the film’s popularity, and on any day you can find people huffing and puffing up. Most of them would never be considered an athlete or mistaken for the young Stallone. (This includes me, who ran the steps five years ago.) One athlete recently did go up the steps. However, he didn’t run.
Readers are familiar with Michael Mills from our interview earlier this year. Michael’s been in a wheelchair since he was 16, and spent most of the years since showing that the differently-abled can do almost anything they set their mind to. One of his personal goals was to climb the steps. For a person without working legs, this means crawling. (I told Michael that if he really wanted to see the Art Museum, they do have a ramp. I was told “LOL Neil you crack me up!) So the Georgian left his home and visited a city without sweet tea where the residents have funny accents, so he could fulfill his dream. Hmm, overcoming challenges and giving it your all? Sounds like Rocky.
On a bright Friday morning earlier this month the “Rocky Steps crawl” began. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to be there to meet Michael, but he provided photos of the eleven minute climb to the top. As far as we know, Michael is the first person to crawl up the steps. Incidentally, he’s not the first adaptive athlete in the area; there’s a bike club of handcyclists that meets for rides nearby.
And of course Michael posed for the victory photo at the top of the steps. If you look closely and compare this photo to the clip from Rocky I posted above, you’ll notice a few differences. The obvious one is that Michael is seated. Another is that the Philadelphia skyline is very different from that of forty years ago.
But the biggest difference is that Rocky Balboa was a fictional hero.
Michael Mills is a real one.