Tunnels to Towers - Cleveland


What: Stephen Siller Foundation Tunnel to Towers Tower Climb - Cleveland

When: Sunday June 9, 2019 0900

Team: Michelle Steiner, Melissa Bock, and Adam Gercak

Funds Raised: $645.00 total


Stephen Siller was a New York Firefighter that was getting off shift when he heard the calls over the scanner of the Twin Towers on 9/11. He shot a text to his brothers who were going to go golfing that afternoon that he would catch up to them later.

Stephen grabbed his gear and raced to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. It was closed. Knowing that was the only way to get to the Twin Towers he parked his truck, donned his gear, and ran through that tunnel into the unknown on the other side.


He died with his other 343 firefighter brothers that day. Many of whom were climbing up to the fire on the high floors, and many were coming down to get out of the building as fast as possible since they called a mayday and to clear the building.

This was quite the somber story to start an event, but it is important.


“There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time” - David Eagleman


This event is trying to keep the names of those who died alive as long as possible. Once the opening ceremonies were out of the way, our CARC team made the way to the start line behind several firefighters in full turnout gear, complete with SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) and helmet. Michelle, Melissa and I were all together as we saw the banner. It had the names and photos every single First Responder lost on 9/11.


As we stood with our hands over our mouths, we turned into the hallway where there was firehose draped between a few ladders. On the hose were badges with the names and fire company for each first responder lost. Everyone picked one or more. We looked at them, said their name, clipped them onto our rucks and waited in line until it was our time to go. Michelle started first. She committed to doing 100 flights of stairs with a 30lb ruck. 10lbs for every $100 she raised for the event.


I had a similar concept. I also had weight based on a goal raised. I had 40lbs. I wasn’t sure I could complete 100 flights of stairs with 40+ lbs and still be able to do the Battle of Ramadi Tough/Light by the end of the week. So I knew I could do 30 lbs no problem; or so I thought.


The starter read our race bib number out loud and counted each participant down. Melissa started just ahead of me. I started going about 10 seconds later. The first thing that hit me was how hot it got really really fast. The stairwell was strictly for emergencies. It was metal diamond plated stairs and judging by the seemingly fresh paint on the stairs, they aren’t used very often. They don’t have ventilation. The air was hot, humid and stale. I caught up to Melissa on the 4th floor and we continued together. By the 5th floor I could feel my heart racing, my breathing getting more and more shallow. My mouth went dry and suddenly I felt like I was having some sort of anxiety attack. I don’t feel claustrophobic at all unless it is a very confined space. I didn’t think I would have an issue. By the 6th floor there was a water station and I grabbed a bottle of water. At the 7th floor I had to stop just to figure out how to breathe. I moved out of the way as a firefighter on his second trip up the stairs came blowing past with full turnouts. I stopped my pity party and pressed on.


During this whole time I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like if people were going the other direction. Everyone in this particular stairwell was moving up. On 9/11 only firefighters were going up while everyone else was going down. What I am going through is NOTHING compared to what those guys did on 9/11. Having to climb 100+ floors with their gear just to start to fight the fire if they got there.


Melissa kept reminding me that what we are going through is nothing compared to those guys. She was right. We pressed on. At the 10th floor Melissa looked back and said, ⅓ of the way there. It felt like 30 seconds later we were halfway.


Coming around the last landing I could hear the volunteers cheering, congratulating us as we entered the air conditioned hallway. We were handed a finishers medal and we made our way to the elevator down. We were sweating, breathing very heavily, and the only thing I wanted to do was get down to the lobby where I could go outside and breathe. Suddenly this is probably what every single firefighter had gone through on 9/11. I understand why some of the men had heart attacks on their way up. The last stair climb I did was outdoors, not indoors so this was a completely different kind of stair climb.


We took a very crowded elevator to the lobby where the 2 firefighters we rode down with started back up the stairs. They were going for 100 flights. Their resolve and determination was inspiring.


Melissa and I dropped our rucks and I could finally breathe again. We waited to see Michelle come off the elevators for her last trip up. She saw her and shouted encouraging things at her. Once she made her way all the way up a 3rd time, she would need to do 10 or 11 more flights to complete 100. Melissa said we should go with her for the final stretch. I agreed, but I couldn’t calm my breathing down. Give or take 15 minutes we saw Michelle again and Melissa took off. I was slow to get my ruck on, but once I rucked up I grabbed my phone and decided to live stream the last flights of stairs. We would finish it as a team.


As we passed that fire hose there were still names hanging on the hoses. A large group up us were going back up so we grabbed more names to take them with us. No one gets left behind is something we heard more than one person say. We couldn’t agree more.

Michelle finished her 100 flights and I couldn’t have been more proud. Melissa and I said that this event will be one we will return to and we will do all 100 flights of stairs.

With more planning, next year would be awesome to have an large crew from CARC join us.


During the awards ceremony they gave away awards for the fastest first responder up, fastest youth, and then awards for fundraising.


I am proud to report that we, the Cleveland Area Rucking Crew, came in second place for fundraising. This is something I am most proud of. I thank you for your support and also all the members of other ruck clubs that donated. This was the most important aspect of the event. The Stephen Siller foundation pays off the mortgages of first responders killed in the line of duty. This is something I can support all day long.


This event is something that I would suggest we all experience at least once. I loved that this 9/11 event was in the middle of June. Often times we keep 9/11 in the background until September 11 actually rolls around. This was great to keep memories alive during the entire year. We should never forget what we all went through as Americans, and we can pay homage to those firemen who climbed those stairs and never made it back.




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