NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — About 1,500 people raced to the top of Rockefeller Center on Sunday morning to raise money for those suffering with multiple sclerosis.

Tim Oakes was among those who climbed up the 66 flights of stairs before most people had their breakfast. He placed first in the annual Climb to the Top race, finishing in a little over nine minutes, WCBS 880’s Monica Miller reported.

“The hardest thing is running in the stairwell,” Oakes said. “It’s like compressed air. It’s like running inside an airplane.”

The local chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society hopes to raise $1 million for research and support services for people living with the disease. About 12,000 people in the region — and 2.3 million worldwide — suffer from MS.

“I’ve got a friend who’s got MS and also I work in health care — I’m a nurse practitioner, so I see a lot at work in neurology,” Oakes said. “I see a lot of people and what MS can do.”

Race participant Kristen Gomes, of Hillside New Jersey, was diagnosed with MS shortly after giving birth to her second son.

“For people who are just getting it, just know that it gets better and just take your medication and just be positive and try to stay as active as you can for as long as you can,” she said.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, unpredictable disease that affects the central nervous system. Its symptoms can include mobility issues, numbness and tingling.