Sen. Mark Kirk climbed more than three dozen flights of stairs in Willis Tower during a charity event Sunday, but his staff declined to say when the senator will return to Congress following a major stroke.
Kirk’s climb, his first public appearance since he was stricken nine months ago, was not announced ahead of time. The senator was unavailable for an interview, and his aides did not respond to questions.
Kirk, 53. made it from the 66th floor to the 103rd floor of the building formerly known as Sears Tower while participating in a charity fundraiser called Skyrise Chicago.
“I’m here. Where’s the beer?” he said from the top floor, where he was embraced and applauded by onlookers.
The Willis Tower climb was the latest in a series of carefully controlled events designed to portray Kirk as recovering while strictly limiting his public exposure.
Since falling ill, Kirk has appeared in a handful of videos overseen by his office. In May, aides released a video showing Kirk relearning to walk at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. He appeared last week in a campaign video for Rep. Bob Dold, R-Ill., whose seat Kirk held for almost 10 years, but did not speak publicly in the spot.
On Sunday, Kirk wore a brace on his left leg and held the stair rail during his climb, which was monitored by a physical therapist from the rehabilitation institute, where the lawmaker undergoes therapy.
The therapist, Michael Klonowski, told WGN-TV afterward: “We’ve seen some amazing progress over the last few months from when Mark first came to us.
“It was hard for him to take steps at first, getting that left side much stronger and being able to navigate around obstacles he would in his daily life. Just starting with taking a few steps, he’s just done amazing things."
Kirk underwent three brain surgeries after his stroke. His physicians said he might suffer lingering paralysis on his left side but was expected to regain his mental faculties.
Kirk, from Highland Park, was elected to the Senate two years ago. The Senate plans to convene for a post-election, lame-duck session on Nov. 13. On the agenda are highly charged debates over whether to extend the so-called Bush tax cuts and how to handle the massive cuts in discretionary federal spending slated to take effect in early 2013.