On May 17 2015 I ran the stairs of One World Trade Center, the tallest building in New York, the tallest building in America.
Running stair races frequently bring out fireman wearing their full 120 pound outfits and it pokes at your heart to think of all the hard things they do for us as Americans. This race magnified that understanding 1000 fold. Thinking I would not fully grasp the significance of this race I went on a 9/11 tour the day before to hear from two tour guides that were there on 9/11 and survived but had family or colleagues that perished. It certainly brought back many of the memories of sitting in my parents’ home in 2001 eating cereal with my best friend Jeff as we watched the news cut out to the show the attacks live. One of those moments in life you remember even the smallest details of the day due to the sheer shock of what was happening.
|Morning of the race|
The morning of the race there was a very moving tribute to the first responders who perished in the attacks. As if the tour Saturday wasn’t enough motivation, the opening ceremonies struck the heart even stronger. They shared the stories of Captain Billy Burke a firefighter who stayed back on the 27th floor to stay with two civilians, one a paraplegic in a wheel chair and the other was a coworker who refused to leave the wheel chair bound man. Captain Burke’s crew called back over the radio multiple times for their Captain as they went up the building, rescued some people and then returned them back to the street. Each time Captain Burke would tell them “Keep Going, I’m right behind you.” Captain Burke sat with the two civilians calling their family and friends to say goodbye to them. It wasn’t until his crew was back on the street minutes before the north tower collapsed they learned that Captain Burke wasn’t leaving these civilians. All of Captain Burke’s team survived that day except for him.
Captain Burkes brother very emotionally spoke before the race to tell us all this story. The Tunnel 2 Towers Foundation was started by Stephen Stiller and Captian Burke's brother is a board member. Even after a few days after the race I still tear up recalling his passionate comments regarding this fundraiser. After he spoke the bagpipes played a song and it was off to the starting line. I was quietly crying as I made my way through security to the entrance of One World Trade. Running the stairs of the tallest buildings in each state has always been an emotional experience considering I run for my niece who has never been able to walk and will most likely never be able to. Adding the words from the dust of Captain Burke “Keep going, I’m right behind you” added another layer to the motivations for pushing my body beyond fatigue as I rose up the stairs.
|Opening ceremony, I am front and center in the black shirt|
I was lucky enough to be in the Elite Climber group that started early in the day thanks to my prior performance in other races around the country. There were around 40 of us at the starting line. The majority of this group is part of the West Coast Labels team. They are the worlds best group of stair racers that travel the world running in stair races and raising money for the organizations that put on these races. They were generous enough to allow me to be part of their team for this race even though I am nowhere near their athletic level. I was actually quite honored to be part of their group since I look up to many of them.
My training leading up to this race was……I will generously call it subpar. I knew it would be a bit of a struggle. Mentally there were some interesting twists to this race that we in no way could have known since this is the first ever race. The first thing was the first 6 floors must have gigantic ceilings in them. I reached floor 4 and felt like I should be at floor 13. Once I hit floor 6 I decided to start counting the stairs to get an idea of how many stairs there were in between floors. The Stairmaster in my garage counts 10 steps as 1 floor although most buildings are around 12 steps per floor. I started counting as I ran and turned multiple times until I finally hit 51 steps! The thought of running 94 floors is hard enough but 51 steps on each floor is something my body was screaming NO about. The good news is once I hit the 51st step the sign on the next floor read number 20. It was a relief as a normal pace of 12 steps for each floor continued the rest of the way until around the 89th floor.
I was pushing my jelly legs and lungs as hard as possible once I hit 89th floor thinking I only had one more to go. Then another twist as the last floor had 4 flights of stairs. I came out the door and thought I was done. I turned two corners and saw the finish line was 20 feet in front of me. They posted a video of me running to the finish line and its funny to see me come around the corner because in my mind I was sprinting to the finish line but on the video I looked more like a stumbling drunk. I don’t remember the volunteer handing me water after I crossed the line but saw it on the video.
I found a place to sit down on the dirty concrete to let my head stop pounding for a few minutes. Finally I grabbed my water and looked around to notice there was a wall where they were allowing us to write names of those we run for. I mustered the strength to stand, grabbed a sharpie and wrote the name of my niece Whitney, her mom Stephanie, my wife and my kiddos on the concrete wall near the floor where I was sitting and sweating after the race. It will soon be covered in sheet rock but their names will always be there on the concrete as a remembrance of why I run.
I brought my sister Stephanie and my 7 year old daughter who is the same age as her cousin Whitney to New York for the weekend. They stayed back at the hotel in Times Square since I had to get up so early and the security was tight that they couldn’t even be there at the top to see my finish even if they would have come.
Security was so tight, understandably so, which meant I was not able to bring my phone to take any pictures. Thanks to the charity and their photographer Conner Misset and the Tunnel 2 Towers organization I was given some of the photos from the day.
I took the long elevator ride back to street level and began to head back to Time Square. I had a surge of energy while looking for a taxi and began to jog back. I made it all the way back to the hotel and it was such an enjoyable run. My legs never seem to get tired after these races, it’s my lungs that can’t keep the pace as I climb the stairs. I am going to work on my endurance over the summer.
The stairwell was hot and humid when I ran. During 9/11 the power was out and the stairwells were dark since there are no windows. There were glow in the dark strips on the rail but it’s difficult to imagine the heat, smoke and darkness in those stairwells and then add on all those thick fireproof uniforms the firefighters wear. I can’t imagine how some of them made it up so high, picked up civilians and then carried them back down to the street. It’s an impossible feat.
The two girls and I had an excellent three days in New York City that will never be forgotten. If not for this race we would never had planned this trip so I am incredibly grateful for the experiences this stair climbing quest is providing me. I have now run the stairs of the tallest building in 17 states. Looking forward for the next adventures!