Editor's note: Steve Kovar has been chosen as the Huffington Post's Greatest Person of the Day," which puts a national spotlight on people who are confronting major issues and making a difference in their community. To check out the feature there and to read other inspiring stories, go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/greatest-person-of-the-day.
This Sunday morning, at about the time most of us are grabbing our first cup of coffee, Steve Kovar will be at the foot of one of Chicago's tallest buildings and likely whispering a small prayer along the lines of “Feet don’t fail me now.”
His goal will be to climb the John Hancock Center's 94 flights of stairs in less than a half hour and in the process raise more than $500 for Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago.
This is the 15th year for the association’s Hustle Up the Hancock, in which 4,000 climbers make the hike and bring in more than $1 million for lung disease research and education.
For Kovar, a Plainfield pediatrician, the commitment to the cause is a personal one. He’s doing it to support Jerry Liberty, the man who has become a surrogate father to him and is fighting stage IV lung cancer.
“It’s a hard diagnosis; there’s no nice way of putting it,” said Kovar, 39, of Naperville. “But he said, ‘I’m not going down without a fight.’”
The diagnosis came out of the blue for Liberty, a retired Chicago police homicide detective who quit smoking more than 30 years ago. Kovar met him in 2007, when Kovar was forming a business partnership with Jerry’s daughter, Kristine Liberty, with whom he now owns Kids First Pediatrics at 24600 W. 127th St.
Kovar describes Jerry Liberty, 72, as a “humble guy” who has the right attitude when it comes to living and appreciating life.
“He said to me, ‘You have no idea what this means to me,’” Kovar said. “I figured, what the hell? It’s a cool event. Why wouldn’t I do it?”
Participants in the Hustle Up event start climbing the stairs in staggered times beginning at 7:30 a.m. Sunday. Kovar’s start time is 9 a.m. and he’s set a goal for himself to finish is less than a half hour, he said.
The fastest anyone’s climbed the 94 flights is 9.31 minutes, Kovar said, and most people finish in 25 to 30 minutes. Kovar’s been getting ready for the event by going up and down the nine flights of stairs at Edward Hospital in Naperville, one of the highest buildings in the area.
And he won’t be alone in making the hike. Kovar's wife Ann, who lost 130 pounds in the last few years and ran her first full marathon this fall, has committed to doing a “half climb” of 52 flights, he said.
“It’s a challenge, and I’m always up for a challenge,” he said.
Plus, it’s a good thing for their two sons, ages 6 and 9, to see their parents doing things like this, Kovar said. If the money they raise helps pay for a brochure that might persuade just one teen not to start smoking, it will make the entire effort worthwhile, he said.
As for Jerry, he’s an amazing role model, too, Kovar said.
“He’s doing better than he even hoped,” Kovar said. “Sure, he has good days and bad days. But knock on wood, he’s doing very well.”
Kovar set a fundraising goal of $200, which he had surpassed by $325 as of Tuesday night. To make a contribution or to leave a note of encouragement, go to www.lungchicago.org/stevekovar.