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Month: May 2015

REVIEW – Running the stairs in the glory of all those people

REVIEW – Running the stairs in the glory of all those people

IMG_4593So in my last post I focused on the weekend of events while in New York City for the Tunnel to Towers Climb at One World Trade Center. In this spot I want to talk a little more about the climb itself and really give a review of what you might expect and hopefully push you to sign up when it opens up again (hopefully).

Seldom have I ever had my entire being moved emotionally the way that I was Sunday morning. It was of little surprise to me that it would happen, but the extent I was taken back by. As an American the presentation of colors and the playing of our National Anthem always move me, but to hear it sung and literally fill the air around ground zero left my hair standing and eyes wet for quite some time. It was one emotion after another, building to the point of goose bumps, shivers, and literally taking over my mind any body. I won’t recap the ceremony more since I have already covered that one in the other post titled “New York City, the WTC, and a recap”

IMG_8757This was a climb that was announced without too much advanced warning, I was shocked by how quickly and well it was put together. I had just gotten back from Seattle in March and it seemed that BAM here is the next thing, and one that I could not pass up! Registering was a breeze, and the crowdwise site that was used worked well for what I needed.

The level of communication with the people of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation about the event was stellar for something of this size. I send an email and had a quick reply with the answers that I was looking for. I’ve struggled with smaller events to get that kind of service, but it wasn’t too much of a surprise. I’ve contacted the T2T about runs before and been met with the same level and quality of support, so hats off to you. I think when Mike Burke mentioned the “Tunnel to Towers organization to run everything,” that he was spot on. I’ve been to excellent events and some that weren’t so much. Great job!

IMG_8707The WTC building as you’ve seen from most every picture is large, and something that just looks massive, but nothing is quite as intimidating as standing at the base and looking up at the correct angle. Freedom Tower literally looks like it extends into heaven. As Dennis and I toured the area the day before the event we really got to take in the size and what we were about to do. One World Trade Center, our climb was 90 floors and 1970 steps to a very amazing view.

Security was of the utmost concern, as it should be, because of what we know can happen in the new world that we live in these days. I knew ahead of time that there was going to be no music, no phones, no nothing, but losing my sports watch was a surprise. I don’t want to discuss security and the aspects of how that was handled so that we can keep seeing this event happen. I will say this, they handled It with extreme professionalism and did it well. Hats off to all agencies that were a part of this!

Dennis and I got into our corrals with Wave 1 (Fire/EMS/Law Enforcement/Military) that was supposed to be the first waves released. Now this is where I may step on a few toes, but will say there were MANY first responders around us surprised to see the Elite runners (Wave 2) go up ahead of us. From being competitive and this being FAR from my first tower race I understand wanting to not be slowed down, but it was a little disappointing.

IMG_8711Gloves on, all warmed up and ready to go, they waved me on and I entered the stairwell at 8:38:17. I immediately was welcomed to a wide, bright, stairwell that was nothing like I had seen before. I had my song in my head and instantly was in the pace that I wanted to start with before the heat and the pain had any chance to take over my body and mess me up. Climbing without a playlist is very different, I don’t like it, but if it means climbing this bad boy again, I will in a heartbeat! Most buildings have their surprises and this was no different, like all the missing floor numbers on the lower levels and BAM I was up in the 20’s. There were hallways which I used to overtake a few people and stretch my legs on a little bit and change up the pace.

Water stops were in a corner on a landing and ran well. I think for the size of the tower maybe a third might help some that aren’t in the elite group and maintaining a different pace.

I got out of pace a few times when the stairwell was 5-6 people wide and felt like I had hit the grocery store on the eve of Thanksgiving where the aisles are full of carts. Trying to jockey for position at times I felt like I could have been more aggressive and didn’t, I think clearly that is an area that I will improve on and I know I can gain back valuable seconds. I never once during that climb forgot what I was there to do, regardless of how competitive I was being, I was remembering and playing back the moments of September 11th through my head and pushed on by the quote by Captain Billy Burke, “keep going I’m right behind you.”

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 10.34.22 AMAs I continued climbing I noticed more and more of the wave 2 “Elite” climbers that I was passing. Now back to the competitive side of me that felt a sense of accomplishment as I passed up those that attempted and were there to get the best time possible. I would pass one, then another, and use that to keep my head high. As a tower climber I typically do these events first in running gear, and then go back and throw on my fire gear (42.5 pounds) and race back up again just as hard. So to see where I started out in 2007 and where I am now was a great accomplishment for me personally.

We kept going, again wow what a building. Clean, not filled with dust being kicked up or met with heaters at face level on the landing blasting your lungs like you’re in an oven. I’ve seen this at greater than 50% of the buildings I’ve climbed and was a nice change to not have the smokers cough at the top! Floors 65-76 were a little tough for me and the lungs and heart I was maxing out on, I didn’t need my watch to tell me that I was peaking here. I began to single-rail and use the left hand to push off on my knee to keep me going. At floor 80 and above I might have been peaking, but I thought of my fallen 343 brothers and used every bit of emotion to push the mental game and keep me going, I never stopped. Floor 89 was that surprise of the extra flight before I turned and burned to the finish line.

IMG_8761Collapsing to the floor by the windows on the cold concrete I was done and struggled to regain not only composure, but also had to get the heart rate down quickly. Plenty of water up there that was handed out and when I had my wits about me I was able to find out my time by watching the screen…silly me that still had the tunnel vision going on didn’t think to look for the computer where we could search by name/bib number. I finished the climb 90 floors with a time of 20:11. We continued to cheer on the others as they came across and see what they thought of the climb.

I waited for my brother Dennis to come across the finish line and make sure he was doing ok before we moved to the next step that was unexpected. Not only was there a banner to sign on the 90th floor, we were given the opportunity to SIGN the concrete wall and be a part of the unfinished area. Now I don’t know what will be done with that whether they will glass over it, build over it, but I know this, I can point out where we are a part of the “rebirth” of the area! Excellent idea especially for us first responders to have that opportunity, thank you!

Elevators down to the party on the 64th and we were starting to feel a lot better. Excellent race medals, plenty of great people, food, drinks, and race swag. If you left hungry, thirsty, or without your hands full….you missed out. This was a great way to finish this off and celebrate. A wall for photos was a welcome spot to capture the moment of the day.

Race aside, competition aside, the meaning and the people that we were there for that day was the most important thing. The money that was raised (I’m hearing $500,000?) is going to build an adaptive home for a catastrophically injured veteran, which is an amazing cause.

Thank you to everyone that made this event possible, it truly was an excellent way to honor the memories and make sure they are never forgotten. Hopefully it was as inspirational to others as it was to me.

God Bless America!

New York City, the WTC and a recap

New York City, the WTC and a recap

IMG_8767What a weekend that it was in New York City for the inaugural Tunnel to Towers Climb up One World Trade Center. It was of no surprise that I was going to come away from it changed and full of emotion, but had no idea just to the extent. The work that the Tunnel to Towers Foundation and the Siller and Burke families do is amazing and absolutely I had to support it. The event helped raise money to build adaptive homes for our most catastrophically injured servicemen and servicewomen that are coming back from war.

Since this was announced with so little lead time after another major event of mine, the amount of time to logistically be ready was limited. As much as I would have loved to stay longer, I crammed a lot into the two-day weekend in the Big Apple. For those of you just picking up on this story, the Tunnel to Towers Climb was a timed race up 1WTC 90 floors, 1970 steps as a fundraiser for the foundation. This was the first ever event to be held at the “Freedom Tower” and a rebirth of the area down around ground zero.

I landed in Newark and managed to clumsily make my way over to the city, a little shaky with navigating some areas, but managed to find some extremely helpful NYPD officers that got me directed where I needed to go. This is something that continued through the weekend, hospitality, some of the finest that I have seen, and it was extended often. Spent plenty of time walking on the first day, and safe to say that my legs were well warmed up for the climb.

IMG_8744It’s one thing to participate in events like these such as the climb, but it is another to share it with a friend. I met up with Dennis, Sunland Park F.D. and New Mexico Task Force One, who climbed out in Seattle for the L&LS climb back in March. Logistics wise Dennis was spot on with the hotel he found in the financial district and it definitely helps to split costs on these big trips. Talking back and forth since before Seattle, I knew Dennis “gets it,” and I saw some of that back in March, but it shined in NYC. I met up with Dennis and our plans pretty well matched, we hit a local pizza shop for some authentic cuisine, we picked up race packets, and the first day spent most of it on the move. From firehouses, to museums, to stores, to just doing everyday touristy things we were busy.

If you’re in New York City, see the 9/11 Memorial Museum, and the Memorial. I mean I guess that goes without saying, but do it, take the time, plan to allow PLENTY of time and soak it in. Get your tickets online ahead of time because they sell timeslots and you can get in faster than if you do will call there. I won’t spoil your trip and tell you too much about the exhibits and what you will experience, but its very moving. We left the museum, after mingling with other firefighters and task force members that were in town for training, and we headed to the memorial. Now to this point I’ve only seen video and photos of the reflecting pools and in those they didn’t look that massive, but they are. The sound of water emanating and echoing in the air from it continuously falling, and the bronze panels with names that seem massive really hit you. Seeing that many names and the sheer size of the attack on our people that day took my breath away a little because of the space that this takes up. We left and again looked for some local food for the night before the race meal and then to rest up for the climb.

Sunday morning we started out with a ceremony that I will never forget and will be one that is hard for an event to top. Walking up to the event in the morning the air was filled with pipes and drums, the sounds of honor guards drilling, and sound tests with piano and voice. From a distance I thought maybe they secured Billy Joel. Dennis and I spent the time before the ceremony talking with others that were climbing and what motivated them for this climb. To hear family of our fallen speak, and hear those that were in the towers that day was very touching to just listen to their accounts.

We opened the morning with Daniel Rodriguez (Ret. NYPD and New York Tenor) singing the Star Spangled banner. Keep in mind we are literally in what you could call the shadows of WTC hearing our National Anthem echo and flow through the city, the hallowed ground where so many were lost. I’m no ashamed to admit it was one of many times I was moved to tears that day. As the ceremony started we had the best spot in the house I think. I was up front, and Dennis was just a little back and to my left. You’ll probably see him in some of the event videos from the media because he’s head and shoulders above most people….literally. All kidding aside, the only thing that can surpass Dennis’ height is the size of his heart and love of what he’s doing. He’s already talking about the “next one”, the “next race,” and getting into the cause.

To hear the speeches, the rebirth of the neighborhood, and to get a feel of just what the Sunday event might be for a lot of people, including the families of those affected was beyond touching. The level of patriotism in this ceremony and the day was phenomenal. To hear Frank Siller talk about the building, the “V”, and the “Victory” of those running up the stairs set the stage for the race. The sacrifices, the memories, and just what we were doing filled the crowd with energy, he emanates positive energy and greatness and I got chills with his statements before turning over the stage to the Three Tenors who just kept the level of emotions on edge.

Mike Burke, Brother of Captain Billy Burke took the stage next and he opened with how they really got this event at WTC started before he got into the story of his brother. The story of his brother staying with the civilians until the end and encouraging his men to “keep going, I’m right behind you,” in order to get all of his men out. He stayed with a quadriplegic and his friend, ultimately giving his all when the tower collapsed.

Johnny Poppo and his daughter Giana performed the song “Running In,” that he wrote shortly after 9/11. An incredibly moving song, again, more chills, more tears, and got me to the core before taking to the steps in competition. Definitely worth a listen, its on the ceremony video that I captured on Sunday. I knew from listening to them that John was quite talented, but it wasn’t until Sunday night that I found more information about him and his musical talent over the years as a producer and 30 year veteran of the music industry. Wow!!! The ceremony was finished off with Rodriguez singing America the Beautiful, followed by the Pipes and Drums playing a verse.

The climb, well I’ll talk about that in my next piece, but needless to say 90 floors up was quite the race. I finished with a 20:11 and VERY happy with that. The 90th floor we were met with a crowd of people at the finish and were able to not only enjoy the view, but sign the concrete wall and be a part of 1WTC. The trip to the 64th for the after party was nice to hydrate a little more and get some calories to pep back up after putting it all out in the stairwells.

Before we left the area Dennis and I stopped over at the memorial and we took some photos with medals by Siller and Burke, along with recapping the event a little with other competitors.

We headed back to change and take on the city once again. Did I mention that we spent some time at firehouses while we were there? You can’t travel without finding some and we found them full of hospitality, brotherhood, and welcomed with open arms. Engine 4/Ladder 15 and then Rescue 1 a little later in the afternoon, and I both a great experience talking and learning from them. I love fire history, love the job, and to get to spend time this way just added to the weekend. To hear newer guys to the job out of the academy talking history of their house, their truck, their crew is some true pride. To hear it from the more veteran guys as well and get to learn more first hand, wow.

In the evening we parted ways and I headed back to the airport, tired, but still beaming with what we had seen accomplished this weekend. I must have watched the morning video a dozen times. I came away from New York with a new revived sense as an American, a firefighter, and for the works that I am involved with. This was a weekend and an event that I will never forget for our Brothers that we WILL NEVER FORGET.

God bless all that were involved, and God bless the United States of America.

VIDEO – Opening Ceremony at Tunnel to Towers Climb at 1WTC

VIDEO – Opening Ceremony at Tunnel to Towers Climb at 1WTC

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 8.41.01 AMWhat a busy, amazing, eventful, jam packed, and patriotic weekend that it was.  I am still reeling in the emotions from all the events of the Tunnel to Towers Climb at One World Trade Center on Sunday morning.  I want to take some time to gather all of my thoughts, but already working on the recap of the event.  In the meantime I wanted to make sure that everyone could see the opening ceremony that was held at the event.  If you click on the image here it will take you to YouTube so you can watch it.

Grab some tissues, turn up the audio, and NEVER FORGET!

If clicking on the image does not work, here is direct link:

Set to climb inaugural T2T race up One World Trade Center

Set to climb inaugural T2T race up One World Trade Center

What an exciting week that it is leading up to the inaugural Tunnel to Towers Climb in New York City. On Sunday, May 17th I, along with 1000 other people will be racing up One World Trade Center in a competition and fundraiser to benefit and remember the lives of our Brothers, including FDNY Captain Billy Burke of E21. The T2T Foundation will use the proceeds to build specialized homes for catastrophically injured veterans.

I heard about the event shortly after coming back from the Seattle FF Climb and knew that I wanted to be involved. Really, an inaugural race up an iconic building that overlooks the hallowed ground where our Brothers made the ultimate sacrifice, and others perished. It was not, “will I race,” but, “what do I need to do to get there,” that was in my mind, I was going.

Competing in this race is about so much more than racing. I mean don’t get me wrong, I am excited to record my time in the first run there and go head-to-head with elite climbers that I aspire to be, but there is more. The first waves of this race are all Fire, EMS, Law Enforcement, and Military, as we honor those lost. I plan on channeling as much of that emotion into my climb, my pace, and using it to push me along through the hard parts.

I’ve been a part of some amazing climbs and races in the past nine years, and to be honest they all have some type of meaning to me. I select them based upon who its for or what its accomplishing, but the emotional part of this climb I have yet to wrap my arms around. Every competition has physical and mental preparedness and game to it. Do I think I can climb 90 floors, yes I do because I have and physically its possible. The mental game on the other hand is something I have been working on. I’ve done the 9/11 Memorial Climbs all over, I’ve done the Tunnel to Towers runs, ran in other races honoring our fallen, but this brings it all together in NYC right where it happened.

Now back to the physical part. Due to security reasons, we will not be racing in fire gear or really with ANY PPE for this climb. While I understand, I’m a little disappointed as for some insane reason I love climbing in gear. I think however this will be enough of a challenge up 90 floors, 1970 steps, to what I hear is quite the view of the city skyline.

I’ve been training in the stairwells, running, and on the bike to keep up the pace. While I haven’t found a stairwell that turns the same way as 1WTC it will have to suffice and I’m sure has me more than ready. I have some lofty goals on this one to be under the 15-minute mark that they consider being the “elite” climbers. With the 150-step rate I have been training at, I would say that shooting for 14 minutes is even possible. The only major difference between this and the other races that I do is that there are no electronic devices allowed. No mp3 players, phones, ipods, etc. This is where I hope my musicianship growing up will help with the songs and beats I have memorized.

Health wise I’m coming into this week doing pretty well and have taken some advice from much senior runners and climbers on my approach to this one. My food and my hydration this week are a little different, and I hope the changes will help out. I’ve already began the wind down leading to the race and know that there is nothing left physically that can be done to make me faster or stronger in the next several days. It is time to focus mentally

Best of luck to all competitors this weekend at the climb. Wishing you safe travels, and see you in New York City!

Even in competition we will lift each other up, we will push, we will prevail, and WE WILL NEVER FORGET!