In honor of the fallen first responders of the 9/11 attacks, Arizonans are coming together on Sept. 11 to participate in the 9th annual 911 Tower Challenge.
The 911 Tower Challenge Foundation, a local 100% volunteer-based and 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization, hosts the annual event to memorialize the victims of the attacks while raising money for local first responders and military members, according to its website.
Participants of the challenge climb 2,071 steps, which is equivalent to the 110 floors of the World Trade Center's twin towers, according to Rob Brandt, a Tucson Police Department sergeant and the 911 Tower Challenge Foundation president.
“We came up with this idea of doing a tower challenge and we opened it up mainly to the [Tucson Police] department. We had about 100 people who did the first Tower Challenge and climbed the 2,071 steps,” Brandt said. “Then that just continued every year. We'd hold an annual challenge and it's grown and grown and grown. So now the event is in Tucson, Phoenix and Flagstaff. Last year we had about 3,400 people participate.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tower Challenge has been held at Arizona Stadium at the University of Arizona for its past events, according to the foundation’s website.
Former UA rugby coach and sports broadcaster, Dave Sitton, helped plant the seed in the 911 Tower Foundation hosting the event at Arizona Stadium, according to Brandt.
“Dave got the ball rolling. Unfortunately, he passed away. But by that point, the contacts had been made and we got together with Arizona Athletics and they were very receptive to letting us do the Tower Challenge there. They've been a great team to work with for the past eight years,” Brandt said.
In the past 911 Tower Challenges, participants would receive a badge with a picture and name of a fallen first responder on it, according to Brandt.
“They looked down [at the badge] and then they're climbing for that person. They see the eyes and the faces looking back at them as the people that lost their lives on Sept. 11 and it gives them the inspiration to keep going,” Brandt said.
Due to the pandemic, this year's event will be held virtually. Participants can complete the challenge by climbing 2,071 steps or walking 1.25 miles anywhere they can and on their own time, according to its website.
The 911 Tower Challenge Foundation will also stream this year's opening ceremonies at 6:00 a.m. MST on Sept. 11, according to the foundation’s website.
“I remember 9/11 when it happened. When they play the footage for the opening ceremony, it always makes me cry because it just brings me back to how I felt that day. With everything going on in the world, I feel like it's an event that brings people together because a lot of people do remember that time and how they felt. So to be able to represent the people that lost their lives, that means a lot to me,” said Samantha Spahr, an active participant of the Tower Challenge and a staff sergeant with the Air National Guard.
Registration for the event ranges from $35 to $40 per individual. Each registration includes a commemorative badge and coin along with a T-shirt and protective mask, according to the foundation’s website.
Sponsors help contribute to the Foundation’s operating costs, including previous sponsors like Tucson Electric Power, according to Brandt.
“Everyone on the committee and the board for the 911 Tower Challenge puts in a lot of time and energy to make the event happen. We appreciate the people who participate year after year. It really does make a difference when raising funds for these organizations that get the donations,” said Jennifer Crawford, a committee member for the 911 Tower Challenge Foundation and a Tucson Electric Power employee.
The beneficiaries of this years’ event are the 100 Club of Arizona and the Boulder Crest Foundation. In the last four years of the event, the foundation has raised around $300,000 for its charities, according to the foundation’s website.
“Our whole goal, right from the get-go, was that every bit of money raised by the participants goes straight to the charities. Every year we select a worthy charity from the first responder side of the house and a military support charity,” Brandt said.
Whether actively participating or donating, the 911 Tower Challenge offers the local community a way to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice on Sept. 11 according to Brandt.
“The attitude we have behind the Tower Challenge is that this is a memorial, but we want to embody the American spirit that no matter what we go through, we as a nation and more importantly, we, as a people, will always survive and want to pick ourselves up and keep moving forward,” Brandt said.
For more information about the 911 Tower Challenge and Foundation, visit https://www.911towerchallengefoundation.org/.
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