Academy 'steps up' to fitness, inspiration on Stairway to Heaven

  • Published
  • By Amber Baillie
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
Behind the Academy's Preparatory School trails a steep, wooden stairway leading down to Pine Drive Academy members, cadets and cadet candidates' use as a route to fitness.

In just 0.14 of a mile, hikers ascend or descend 211 feet by trekking 300-plus steps, known as the "Stairway to Heaven," getting a mild to strenuous workout depending on their time and speed. The stairs are open to all military ID holders and have been incorporated in cadet candidate training at the Prep School.

"Running the Stairway to Heaven is not only a fantastic cardio workout, but it really works your glutes and quad muscles," said Col. Kabrena Rodda, commander of the Prep School. "When you're done, your legs feel like Jell-O and you definitely know you've worked out hard the next day."

Every year the stairs are integrated into Prep School training including Basic Military Training and their Transition Exercise, where cadet candidates reflect on their accomplishments throughout the year and hone their team-building skills in preparation to hopefully join the Academy's Cadet Wing, Rodda said.

"We don't have our own obstacle courses, but we can sort of fashion one out of the stairs, which saves lots of money by not requiring transportation or obstacle course manning," Rodda said. "Also, accomplishing a stairway workout is incredibly motivational."

Rodda said the stairs are a great way to condition for the Manitou Incline, a 2,000-foot elevation gain with 5,000 steps.

"As you gradually work up to more and more ascents in a given workout, you can easily gauge your progress," Rodda said. "Once you can get through about ten ascents without stopping, you're probably ready to try the incline without too much pain or frequent stops."

Due to the location of the stairway, visitors without a military ID must be escorted by a military cardholder to train.

"I regularly see people running the stairway, not just permanent party but also their family members," Rodda said. "I actually noticed a running route that includes the stairway on, so in some respects you could say it's famous."

Rodda said she believes the route was tagged as the Stairway to Heaven because it ends at the parking lot for the base chapel and has a steep ascent.

"I believe the stairway was originally built simply to provide easy access from Pine Drive to the Community Center," Rodda said. "Without the stairway, people have to walk more than a mile and a half to get to the (Main Exchange), commissary and other facilities."

At the top of the stairs is a memorial for 2007 Prep School graduate, Mitchell Seamons, who died in 2010.

"To some degree, you could say the stairway is hallowed ground for preppies as they all tread those steps during their year of preparation," Rodda said.

Rodda said the Prep School aims to have cadet candidates participate in activities they won't take part in at the Academy to avoid feeling as if they've spent a fifth year there.

"The Stairway to Heaven in our training at the Prep School is kind of a no-brainer, and it's something every preppie remembers long after they leave here," Rodda said.

Deborah Bautista, a teacher at Air Academy High School, has been climbing the stairs every day during the school year for the past five to six years.

"It's a great work out if you climb them at least two to three times," Bautista said. "I'd encourage people to check them out for their health. It's great cardio and a good way to keep your heart rate up."

She said the boys basketball team, women's weight training class, and speed training class from the high school train on the stairs regularly.

"I've climbed with my students," Bautista said. "It's nice because you can take it step by step and choose your work out depending on how many times you climb up and down. It's always a great exercise."