As the most historic city in America, Philadelphia has nurtured accomplished citizens in all walks of life. But its most famous resident is a fictional movie character: boxer Rocky Balboa.
Rocky represents the city’s hardscrabble image. In the first Rocky movie, despite the backing of the lovely Adrian, he didn’t win. (Sorry if we ruined the ending for the three people who still haven’t seen it.) But he went the distance against a much stronger foe–for him that was a victory.
He has become an inspiration to millions of people around the globe who can identify with his underdog tale. The most famous scene in Rocky occurs after he has transformed himself from an out-of-shape pug to a lean mean fighting machine. Rocky runs through the streets of Philadelphia and eventually winds up at the base of the imposing steps leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Earlier in the film he could barely make it to the top. But now he goes bounding up the steps with the unbridled energy of a child tearing through presents on Christmas morning. The Rocky Steps, as they are now known, have become a worldwide symbol of triumph over adversity.
A few years ago, Philadelphia Inquirer journalist Michael Vitez and photographer Tom Gralish wrote a book titled Rocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope, and Happiness at America’s Most Famous Steps. They spent a year atop these steps, interviewing some of the people who ran up them in a virtual round-the-clock operation. He met people from cancer survivors to wedding parties to celebrities. They all wanted to come to Philadelphia to experience a bit of the Rocky magic.
The entire world comes to the Rocky Steps. We are going to reverse that trend by starting this journey at the base of the steps and from there we will travel around the world for a year. There will be many obstacles in our path from language barriers, events out of our control and the occasional gastrointestinal hijinks.
Our goal isn’t to win over every obstacle we face. Sometimes we will just have to grit our teeth and endure it. But like Rocky, we want to go the distance. We will travel an estimated 75,000 miles during the year and return to Philadelphia to run to the top of the steps.
Appropriately enough the music that is played while Rocky makes his triumphant sprint is “Gonna Fly Now.” We can’t think of a better song to be humming in our heads as we board the plane to Beijing.
As a source of inspiration for those times when we wonder what we were thinking by going on this journey, we’ve brought a bit of Philadelphia with us (no, not Cheese Whiz). We have a miniature Rocky statue that will motivate us along the way for when the going gets a little tougher than we had planned. We’ll document Little Rocky’s trip around the world as he spurs us on to ever greater heights.
Here’s a video of where Little Rocky had been to halfway through the trip:
To view a photo album of where Little Rocky has been, including meeting actor Danny DeVito in London and former president Jimmy Carter check out Little Rocky’s photo album on Flickr.
We said we’d run up the Rocky Steps when we returned and we did. See A Sort of Homecoming.