As any of you who have been following this blog for more than a week or so know, I have been extremely fortunate to be involved with an amazing event: the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climbs. The climb started here in Denver in 2005 and two years ago, went national through the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. The Foundation met with us and we devised a plan to take it to the masses, with 2011 ending with some 55+ climbs in four countries, and over 5,000 climbers participating. The purpose of the event is primarily a memorial event, and in Denver, we only allow 343 firefighters (the same number killed on 9-11) to climb the 110 stories (the same number as the WTC). As part of the Steering Committee for the Foundation, I had a very unique and special opportunity to attend a meeting in New York City earlier in December.
As part of the trip, I did build in about two days of photographic sightseeing (photos included below: Flatiron Building and the High Line Park are well worth your time) and found the chance to catch up with a long-time childhood friend whom I haven’t seen in probably almost 15 years. I also discovered that (at least in lower Manhattan), should you live there, you exist without the following items in your life: trees, babies, and the sun. But you do have access to these items in your life: great street food, vegetarian restaraunts a plenty, several million tourists, and a solo life lived behind iPod earphones.
And while all that is neat, the purpose of the trip was extraordinary. We were able to stay at a hotel that sat directly adjacent to Ground Zero, and my hotel room’s windows opened to reveal one of the memorial pools where a tower once stood. It was breathtaking each and every time I was witness to that sight. We did visit the 9/11 Memorial, and there really isn’t anything that I could write that would do it justice. Even though the museum isn’t open yet (and is behind schedule), just being there, seeing what they have been able to rebuild, and seeing how they have been able to remember, is an experience that you should not miss out upon. The pools are stunning in their simplicity, and the grounds are quiet amongst all the noise.
On the morning of the meeting, we all met at 6am to do an impromptu stair climb at the hotel. It meant that we would be climbing the building 6.5 times in order to achieve 110 flights, but it also meant that we would be able to do a tribute like that one only feet from where the firefighters actually died. It really was everything that you would imagine it to be, including very emotional. I’m not sure that anyone said anything to anyone else in the stair well, mostly because there wasn’t a need to say anything at all. And then once we got to the top of the building for the last time, walked onto the roof, and looked down onto Ground Zero…..wow.
The meeting itself was a true treat. I am again amazed at how I have found myself in the middle of a great group of people that have all stumbled on such a great project. In 2011, the stair climbs were able to raise $200,000 in total, and that money has already gone to the FDNY for use. The meeting was hosted by the FDNY at their training center, and we were greeted by the Commissioner of the FDNY for a few minutes as we started. He was able to share with us that the money that we were able to help raise will go towards the FDNY Counseling Unit – a unit that would have closed it’s doors without this influx of funding. The unit is responsible for family, relationship, career, and peer-to-peer counseling for the members/families of the FDNY, and will now be funded for another year with this money. To quote the Commissioner, “With the money that you have given us, you are saving lives and families with your work.”
Opportunities like this one don’t come along very often, and I am so thankful to be apart of something that is actually making a difference on many levels. There is no way that we would have been able to do something like this – that started in Denver – without the support of family (namely Ahna and Dad), friends, the department, and all the firefighters who have shown up each year to do the climb. It’s been a helluva trip so far, and I can’t wait to see where this goes in the future.
[ed note: lots of pictures in crazy order. because some are so darn good (ha!), please don’t steal them without asking]