Imagine the task of having to run up one of the most iconic structures ever built. Then imagine facing the obstacle presented by those 1,576 stairs as a bilateral amputee.
That’s what’s in front of Roderick Sewell, whose legs were amputated above the knee before he turned 2, ahead of Tuesday’s Empire State Building Run-Up, in which athletes race up 86 flights of stairs, or 1,576 individual steps.
“Honestly, I want to see how fast I can do it,” said Sewell, who also works as a motivational speaker. “Just a challenge.”
Such challenges have been a regular occurrence for Sewell since he was introduced, at age 8, to the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which sponsors the ESB Run-Up. It drove him to excel in the pool, eventually winning gold (100m breaststroke) and bronze (200m relay) medals at the 2014 Pan Pacific Para Swimming Championships. He went on to win bronze in the 4x100m freestyle relay at the 2017 World Para Swimming Championships.
“Before CAF, I didn’t compete in any sports and had no idea that I could,” Sewell said.
Adaptability, he said, has been key to his journey. In addition to his amputations, he also dealt with homelessness as a child.
“Being an amputee can be difficult, but being homeless was another struggle in itself,” Sewell said. “Since I had so many obstacles placed in front of me at such a young age, it forced me to adapt quickly. My mentality changed, and I knew, regardless of the situation, this is my life, and nobody can live it better than I can. So why not make the best of it?”
A native of San Diego, the 27-year-old Sewell now calls New York home.
“I love Brooklyn,” he said. “Honestly, the people have shown a lot of love and support. I have only been here 10 months, so I am still learning what Brooklyn has to offer. So far, it’s been amazing.”
Sewell credits his mother, Marian Elaine Jackson, "who gave up everything just so I can walk." According to his profile on the Challenged Athletes Foundation website, his mother quit her job in order for California Children’s Services to pay for prosthetics she otherwise couldn’t afford. He appreciates those who call him an inspiration for telling his story.
"If my life inspires others, then I’ll continue living hard and strong,” Sewell said.