So there we are, at least 20 of us with our video cameras and battery belts and Nikons and notebooks, crammed into the very tippy top of the Capitol dome, puffing, panting and white-faced after climbing those 350 tortuous narrow spiraling iron steps.
And here comes Hulda Crooks in her blue knickers, scarlet knee socks and brilliant blue satin basketball coach jacket that reaches halfway to her knees and says Grandma Challenges Mt. Fuji on the back.
"What you mean, we're there already?" she snaps. "We just got started."
Hulda Crooks is celebrating National Women in Sports Day by climbing up here with Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and Denise Parker, a national champion archer at 14.
Hulda Crooks is 91.
"I did 1,200 steps practicing for this thing," she says, not even breathing hard.
An aide asks solicitously, "How ya doin', sweetie?"
Crooks, crisply: "I haven't done anything yet."
Now she is stepping out a tiny door that lets in the mizzling rain. You can't see forever, but you can see South Capitol Street. In fact it is a great view, with the Potomac far off in the mist.
The photographers are getting wet.
"I did my hair this morning," mutters one, a tall woman with rain on her glasses.
"Is there any kinda shot out there?" mutters another. He is still dry.
The Phantom of the Opera would love it here. Giant steel girders. Nuts and bolts as big as your fist. The huge curving surface of the dome top under our feet. Water dripping somewhere. Artists on a 300-foot scaffolding repainting the dome murals. Did you know that some of those octagonal coffers that decorate the inside of the dome have hinges on the back so you can open them?
Down on the ground again, Crooks tells us she works out on 60 steps cut into a steep hillside at her home in Loma Linda, Calif., clambering up and down them as many as 20 times before breakfast.
She first went up Mount Whitney (14,494 feet) when she was 66, has done it 23 times since, most recently last September. Then there was Mount Fuji (12,388 feet) a few years ago and, in the last decade, 88 of the peaks on the Sierra Club's List of Things to Do.
Rep. Lewis, who lost 30 pounds just to get in shape to climb Whitney with her two years ago, asks her what advice she might have for young people, especially women.
"I hope they'll look ahead," she tells the cameras, "and decide what kind of an old age they want and plan for it. We're all headed for old age -- unless we die young. You need to take care of your health and not overdo."
Crooks' husband Samuel died of a heart attack in 1950. A physician, he was the one who encouraged her to exercise.
"I weighed 160 pounds when I was 16," she confesses. "Ate meat twice a day, candy and stuff." A Saskatchewan farm girl, she got out of condition in her school years, when pneumonia ruined her health. It took her 25 years to feel good again. One thing was that she joined the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Another was that she has been a vegetarian since her teens.
And then the mountains. She started climbing in earnest when she retired from public health work at 65. Her backpack is practically made of shoulder patches. There are still 180 peaks left on the Sierra Club list.
"I think she's real neat," says Denise Parker, the 14-year-old champion archer.