To climb the Lighthouse

A story I wrote for the St Augustine Record back when I was interning there in the summer of 2014. Here is Nanci Robinson's story: 

Nanci Robinson steps inside the St. Augustine Lighthouse to begin her weekly routine of treking up to the top ten times on Sunday, August 17, 2014. 


Numbers, Nanci Robinson lives by the numbers. 

Robinson puts down her bag that contains two water bottles and two gloves on a bench at the base of the stairs. Its a Tuesday morning and she feels the air within the long cylindrical building. 

"Its really humid," she mutters "Its going to be a tough one." 

She picks up her bag that reads "I am climbing- Nanci," and pulls the pink gloves onto each hand. 

Nanci Robinson begins her climb up the 219 steps of the St. Augustine Lighthouse on August 1, 2014

"I need them because of the arthritis," she explains. She pulls her laces tight, takes her first sip of water and off she goes. 

The 74-year-old great-grandmother of eight, grandmother of eight and mother of six climbs the 219 steps to reach the top of the St. Augustine Lighthouse. This is all apart of her weekly routine. 

Nanci Robinson wears pink gloves while climbing because of the arthritis in her hands at the St. Augustine Lighthouse on July 15, 2014. 

Its 9:30 am on a Tuesday and as most people are reaching for their second cup of coffee, Nanci is ascending her second climb of the twelve foot building.  

"At first I started like everyone else, just doing one then two," Nanci said. 

The retired bus driver said she started climbing two years ago with a friend and after her friend passed, she decided to keep going. Her previous exercise was biking down the beach but after the dredging project to deepen the inlet channel in 2013 Nanci said she needed to find something else. 

Nanci Robinson enters the St. Augustine Lighthouse on August 5, 2014

“The lighthouse was a real blessing after the dredging,” Nanci said. 

She has since increased the amount of times she makes her way up to the top of the tower. She starts her trek at 9am and makes her last descent at around 10:40am.

Nanci isn't new to challenging herself athletically. At 62 she finished a triathlon and was part of the Amateur Athletic Association. She also swam competitively throughout high school and many years after. 

Nanci Robinson climbs passed a
"I love meeting people while I climb," Nanci Robinson said. 

"Nanci is my inspiration," Bob Sperling, 71, says as Nanci reaches the top of the lighthouse on her now fifth ascent. After one, Sperling is ready to leave. 

"Nanci told me about her climbing and I decided to try it," Sperling says as he makes the descent. Sperling says Nanci told him how cheap it would be to get a membership and he used this as "his excuse," to get in shape for a hiking trip to Nepal he would be taking soon. 

Nanci Robinson reaches the top of the St Augustine Lighthouse and takes a break to speak to one of the volunteers on July 25, 2014. 

St. Johns County residents are allowed access for a year with one paid admission price. Because of this Nanci tends to recruit people during her climbs. 

"I have about three ladies who climb with me on Sundays now," Nanci breathes out at the bottom of her fifth climb. Nanci says there are all different ages of people who come out, from college students to people her age. That’s not her only motivation; she also loves to talk to the tourists who come to visit the St. Augustine Lighthouse. 

Nanci Robinson makes her descent on her last climb of the day on August  5, 2014. 

As visitors struggle to make it up to the fourth or fifth landing Nanci takes a quick breather on her now seventh climb. The tourists and visitors on vacation respond to her feat in awe. Some even ask to take her picture at the top or the bottom- whenever they can catch her.

“I can’t believe it- I could barely do one!” Mike Bell says. He is on vacation with his family from Clearmont, Fl. He has just finished the climb with his son Camden, 11. His wife and second son waited for them at the bottom. The family asks to take her photo and soon after Nanci is up again on her ninth climb. 

Nanci Robinson takes a break during her seventh climb on July 20, 2014. 

As she reaches the top Bill Sarto a volunteer of the St. Augustine Lighthouse relays to Nanci her number. “Nine,” he says as she takes a quick break at the top. 

Sarto says he was too inspired by Nanci to start making the trek up more than once. He now can do two consecutive climbs and is sure to let Nanci know what number she is on while she makes her treks. 

Nanci begins her tenth descent. She drinks the last of her second bottle of water, wipes the sweat off her brow and exits the building. 

To Nanci the numbers don’t seem to matter. The amount of steps she has taken doesn’t really seem to take shape until she has finished them all. 

Nanci Robinson's red climbing bag sits on the bench at the bottom of the St. Augustine Lighthouse on August 12, 2014.