Charlotte 5K and Stair Climb: Intro

The air was cold, the wind was whipping, and around 70 runners gathered on Church Street in Uptown Charlotte at the foot of the Duke Energy Center. The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Run was about to start and FDNY Battalion Chief Frank Poulin spoke in to a megaphone thanking each of the participates for showing their support. A piece of steel from the World Trade Center sat on a trailer next to the start line. The siren blast started the race, and everyone headed down the streets of Charlotte lead by a ladder truck from CFD and a CMPD cruiser. We all started running behind the three members of FDNY Engine 217 who were the grand marshals of the run. For me, it wasn’t about my time, my pace, or the distance. It was about the experience. I had originally only planned on climbing in the Charlotte Firefighters 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb which started around 9am, but after seeing that the Stephen Siller 5K was at 7am…I knew I had to do it as well. Those of you who do not know who Stephen Siller is, below is an excerpt from the Stephen Siller Foundation:

“On September 11th, firefighter Stephen Siller had just gotten off the late shift at Squad 1, Park Slope, Brooklyn. He was on his way to play golf with his brothers on that bright clear day when his scanner told of the first plane hitting the Twin Towers. When he heard the news, he called his wife Sally to tell her he would be late because he had to help those in need. He returned to Squad 1 to get his gear, then took his final heroic steps to the World Trade Center. When Stephen drove his truck to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, it was already closed to traffic . With sixty pounds of gear strapped to his back, he ran through the Tunnel, hoping to meet up with his own company, Squad 1.”

With this only being my second 5K race, I took a different approach to it. This time I did not run with music, headphones, or my cell phone. It was a time for me to reflect back on what he must have thought that day as he ran to the World Trade Center. My bib number for the race was 219, the ID number of Earl Morphew, my friend, mentor, and brother who passed away a few years ago. I chose this number in memory of him because I knew he was running right there beside of me. (You can read about how he inspired me in a post HERE) A fellow firefighter from Tennessee ran beside me the entire race. We kept up a steady pace the entire race, but had decided not to attempt the run in full turnout gear like some of the others that were racing. As we crossed the finish line, the time clock was just ticking past 26 minutes. As I crossed the finish line, I was greeted by another member of FDNY congratulating me. My parents and girlfriend also were there to show their never ending support.

Team 14 of the Charlotte Firefighters 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb consisted of Jason Bledsoe (Team Captain), KFD; Jared Lindholm, KFD; James Roseman, WPVFD; Austin Simpson, SCVFD; Candace Roark, SCVFD; Lance Bellamy, SCVFD; and myself. Each of the climbs I have participated in have had their unique challenges and experiences. All similar in nature, the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb experience is different in each city. The opening ceremony consisted of Charlotte Fire Department’s Pipes and Drums band serenading all in attendance with the sounds of their bag pipe music. The organizers of the event spoke about the sponsors of the event. This climb was eventually opened up to the public, even though I believe only a few civilians climbed. They also had incorporated the number of police officers and EMS workers who were murdered on 9/11/01 by having each of those represented by a climber.

Due to previous commitments and busy schedules, The Fire Critic Rhett Fleitz and Iron Firemen Willie Wines were unable to attend. I had the pleasure of climbing in FDIC with these brothers and fellow bloggers, and there is never a dull moment when they are in town. Since they were unable to attend, they asked me to carry an ID tag for them. Our team was issued a bag of tags and t-shirts, and I was handed the photo ID tag for Firefighter Salvatore Calabro, FDNY Ladder 101. As I studied the tag, I knew nothing about Brother Calabro, yet I had seen his photo before. I have seen all the 343 faces before many of times, and most recently during my climb in Nashville. (You can read about my Nashville climb by clicking HERE.) I hurried down to the registration tent and selected a name for both of my brothers. Not knowing which one to select, I decided to select a member of FDNY based on rank. The Fire Critic is a Lieutenant in his department, so I searched through and came across Lieutenant Michael Quilty, Ladder 11. I did the same thing for the Iron Fireman as he is a Captain in his department. After a few minutes of searching, I came across Captain Vincent Brunton of Ladder 105. I returned to my team as we made our final checks of our gear, and prepared to head to the staging area.
During the Nashville Climb, I presented the firefighters that I traveled with from the “Model City” with a challenge coin and helmet sticker from the 9/11 Patch Project. I once again wanted to present Bledsoe and Lindholm with a small token to remember the experience with. This time, I contacted Wall Shields Co. (Click the link to view their custom wall shields, firehouse run boards, kitchen tables, etc.) about created a custom designed wall shield with the Charlotte climb integrated into the design. Within just a few days, I received a concept drawing of the wall shield. It was very unique and I knew it would be a hit. I pulled them aside just before we climbed and presented the wall shields to them. They were amazed at the laser engraved maple wall shields. They stand approx. 7 inches tall, and I personalized them with a message on the back.

We then prepared to climb…