I want to introduce you to a firefighter named Thomas Schoales. He’s 27, and nicknamed “Golden Boy” because of his constant wide smile.
He’s part of a family of first responders – his father and two brothers all worked as firefighters or police officers. One day, he responded to an emergency situation 10 blocks from his firehouse, and ran into a building to help. Shortly after that, the building collapsed – 500,000 tons of steel, concrete, and glass crashing to the ground. Thomas was one of fourteen men from Engine 4 in lower Manhattan (and one of 343 total firefighters) that died on September 11, 2001. His body would not be found in the wreckage until over four months later.
On Sunday, I had the honor and privilege of clipping that photograph of Thomas “Golden Boy” Schoales to my collar and carrying him with me while I competed in the Tunnel to Towers Cleveland Tower Climb. I pushed myself hard during that stair race, as it was a mighty challenge, but carrying Thomas with me helped keep an eye on a bigger picture. I run stairwells for fun; Thomas ran them at the most dangerous of times, putting himself in the direct path of danger, in the name of helping and saving others. There were moments during the race where I winced and screamed from pain and exhaustion, but I walked away from the stairwell afterward; Thomas did not. To be able to help keep his name and legacy alive makes my heart swell, and honestly, that feeling is more impactful and resonates even deeper within me than the pride that came from finishing an extraordinary physical feat.
And it truly was an extraordinary physical feat. I did the 100 Floor Challenge during the The Tunnel to Towers Cleveland Tower Climb. The race benefited the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, an organization named after another firefighter who perished on 9/11, that raises money to support first responder and military causes. (I competed in the inaugural Tunnel to Towers stair race at One World Trade Center in New York a few years back, and it was a life highlight. Read about it here.)
The event was held at One Cleveland Center, a 31-story skyscraper in downtown Cleveland.
How do you run a 100-Floor Challenge in a 31-story building? By running it multiple times! The race started on the second floor, and went up 30 stories. So competitors raced up the entire stairwell three times, and then entered the stairwell a fourth time, to climb 10 more stories. 30+30+30+10 = 100!
I got to rock my Bowflex shirt, because Bowflex sponsored me for this race, which is totally awesome.
I’ve been leaning on my Bowflex equipment a lot lately – my Max Trainer and Classic Cruiser (from Bowflex’s sister brand Schwinn Fitness) have been instrumental in my getting back on track after my recent foot injury, and I can’t be more thrilled that my friends at Bowflex are in my corner and help cover some of my race costs.
This race was also exciting because my friend Josh did it with me, and it was his first stair race ever. It’s been over seven years since I did my first stair race, so to witness someone experiencing this sort of event for the first time brought back memories.
The basic structure of the 100-Floor Challenge was simple: You enter a stairwell on the second floor…
…and climb and climb and climb until you’re at floor 31. You’ll pass volunteers cheering you on and offering water. Once you’re at the top, you take the elevator back down to the lobby, and then take an escalator back up to the second floor, and do it again.
This race had a lot of firefighters competing in full gear, which is a sight to see – men and woman, wearing 50-70 lbs of gear, clothing, and boots charging up the stairs. One of those firefighters was also one of the race directors, William, whom I met before the race, and is a great guy that did an excellent job planning this event, alongside his wife.
There was a display featuring all 343 firefighters that died at the World Trade Center, and that’s where I got my Thomas Schoales clip-on card. After each of the full 30-story climbs, I grabbed another card to clip to my collar. During the final 10 stories, I was carrying four fallen firefighters with me: Thomas, Brian McAleese, Christopher Mozzillo, and Gary Geidel. I’ve researched the other three a little bit, and share more about them at the end of this post.
As for the race itself, well, it was hard. Very hard. Hard because stairs are always difficult, and hard because I was sore from the 5K race I had run the day before (more on this in my next post). Mostly, though, it was hard because it was actually my second stair event of the morning. That’s right… before I ran the 100-Floor Challenge, I completed in the Power Hour, where I ran up the building (stairs up, elevator down) as many times as possible in one hour.
I’ve done Power Hours before, and they are a straight up endurance challenge. It’s nearly non-stop stairs, with an occasional 1-2 minute break to get back down to the lobby before going again.
I never set specific performance or time goals for a race that I’m doing for the first time. I know what it feels like to go all-out and perform at the best of my ability, so as long as I do that, I’m happy and the race was a success.
I really liked the stairwell. It was narrow, so I could use both handrails, had all right turns, and was consistent, with 10-step flights (except for a couple 8-step flights at the very beginning).
This race reminded me that stair training is really important. I may be coming off a recent foot injury that sidelined me for about a week, but generally speaking, I’m in great shape. But I hadn’t done much stair-specific training at all during the last two months, and hadn’t raced on stairs since Storm the Stadium in Indiana at the end of April. My absence from stairs was noticeable. I felt sloppy in my technique, and struggled to find and maintain a rhythm.
I’m very good at not giving up, though, so I climbed and climbed and climbed some more. I was a little annoyed, after the first climb, that all we had access to on the 31st floor was an interior hallway. I want to see the view! I could see Lake Erie in the distance, if I looked through a glass office door and through the window at the far end of that office. That’ll have to do!
My buddy Steve and I had an elevator to ourselves after my second climb…
…and I messed up the angle on my selfie after three climbs:
But I succeeded in climbing the stairwell in its entirety five times.
And I still had time left! So I entered the stairwell a sixth time. This race had unique rules. They sounded an air horn in the stairwell at the one-hour mark, and all the competitors were supposed to stop, and we got credit for the number of floors we completed in the last partial climb.
During the Tunnel to Towers Cleveland Tower Climb Power Hour, I did five complete climbs and 19 additional stories on my sixth ascent. That’s 169 total stories!
Add in the 100-Floor Challenge, and that’s a grand total of 269 stories that I climbed that morning.
The stairwell has 770 steps, and my step count for the morning totals out at 6,910 steps. WHOA!
These were races 22 and 23 in my #40years40races challenge, my attempt to complete 40 races in 2019 in honor of my 40th birthday.
The finishers medal was very sparkly:
And the back side was a reminder that this day was less about me and more about remembering the lives that were lost 18 years ago.
I left One Cleveland Center proud and exhausted and completely drenched in sweat. I took with me two medals and two bibs (once for each event), and 8 stickers, each one representing a complete 30-story climb.
Those are my mementos for a job well done, following the footsteps of those who can no longer climb any stairs at all.
Keep it up, David!
This race was a fundraser for the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, so I want to send a huge thank you to those who donated to the organization on my behalf. Joanne and Joe, Leland, Jason, and Stan – you’re the best. Thank you.
Before I go, I want to share a little more information about the other fallen firefighters that I carried with me during the climb.
Brian McAleese was 36 years old, married, and had four children under the age of five when he died at the World Trade Center. He worked at Engine 226 in Brooklyn. In 2003, the street where Brian grew up, in Baldwin, New York, was renamed Brian McAleese Place in his honor.
Gary Geidel was 44, and less than two months away from retirement from the FDNY after 20 years of service. His brother, Ralph, also a firefighter, spent 230 days after the attack searching for remains in the rubble. Gary’s body was never recovered. Ralph passed away in 2014 from cancer attributed to breathing toxins for so long at Ground Zero.
Christopher Mozzillo was 27, and had spent two years with the FDNY. He was an adventurer that loved to scuba dive and ski. He worked at Engine 55 in Manhattan, and was one of the first to arrive on the scene. Bodies of some of Christopher’s colleagues were recovered from one of the stairwells, but Christopher was never found.
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