A "Rocky" Introduction to D.C.

A "Rocky" Introduction to D.C.

At the Museum of Art in Center City, Philadelphia, there are the Rocky Steps. To every Philadelphian (myself included), these steps are a cultural icon for our hometown.

Let me tell you why:

In Sylvester Stallone’s 1976 film "Rocky," the titular character - a working class boxer from South Philadelphia - is given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fight the Heavyweight Boxing champion of the world to win his title. Offered the chance as merely a publicity stunt, Rocky takes the opportunity as more than that. He had something to prove to his critics, and this was his chance.

Rocky is possibly the greatest Philadelphia sports movie of all time. Not only does the Academy Award-winning film display the much-endeared persona of the “underdog,” but it also gives Philadelphia viewers a sense of identity. The City of Brotherly Love hasn’t always been at the spotlight of national or international news. For much of its existence, the city has prided itself on having working class people who make up the American fabric, without receiving the widespread attention that they deserve. Rocky celebrates the working class "nobodies" from Philly, giving the city a better sense of what it meant to be a Philadelphian.

One of the film’s climaxes takes place at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where Rocky finishes his ‘70s-styled workout montage by running up the 72 steps leading up to the building’s exterior. He turns around, looks across the museum’s water fountain towards the stone statue of George Washington, and raises his arms up in triumph. Taking place in the early morning hours of a freezing cold December day, nobody was there to share the moment with him - except for  the hearts and minds of Philadelphian viewers watching it on the big screen.


Rocky gazing at the Washington statue from the Art Museum steps

Courtesy of Phillyvoice.com


I thought of this as I took a jog down the National Mall last Friday. It was the start of my first weekend in D.C., and I wanted to take advantage of the excellent weather that beckoned me to go outside.

Starting in Capitol Hill, I hustled down towards the Washington Monument. I’m not much of a long-distance runner, which is why I was panting quite hard by the time I got there. But then I saw the Lincoln Memorial in the distance.

I thought to myself, “I have to do the Rocky.”

I jogged haphazardly even farther, making my way towards the Reflecting Pool. It was dark by the time I heaved myself step-by-step up the Memorial, dodging tourists left and right. There was an after-prom celebration on the steps, making my route to the memorial even harder as I was losing more and more breath with every stride.

When I finally made it to the top, I turned around. It was dark, with throngs of people surrounding me at all sides. It was loud. It was crowded. It wasn’t what I expected.

I made my way down the steps quietly, and thought how it wasn’t what I expected. Too many people were there. I wasn’t in good enough shape. A recreation of the famous scene wasn’t in the books for that day. So then I started limping back to Capitol Hill as the city continued its business around me.

The view from the Lincoln Memorial. That's the Washington Monument in the distance.


Maybe one day this summer, I’ll wake up early on a Friday or Saturday morning and decide to go for another run. I’ll start jogging before anyone else has gotten out of their house. I’ll make my way down the National Mall and nobody will be there. I’ll get to the Lincoln Memorial, and I’ll be alone. I’ll sprint up the steps and turn around, gazing across the Reflecting Pool at the Washington Monument in the distance, while I lift my arms up in the air. No one will be there to revel in the moment, except for myself.

I’ll have to get in better shape. I don’t want to let Rocky down.


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