The 2,071 steps I climbed last Sept. 11 felt different.

I’ve taken a lot of steps forward in my life, and plenty more back. I’ve run and hiked many of them, on any terrain you can imagine: mountain trails, puddled roads, sandy beaches.

I’ve certainly climbed my share of stairs, including enduring middle school wrestling practices, balancing groceries in both hands up narrow apartment stairwells and schlepping oversized luggage in subways without elevators. Plenty of times, I choose stairs over the escalator as public health researchers tell me to do.

Last year, when I found out from my friend Kurt Braatz about the 9-11 Tower Challenge he organizes at the Walkup Skydome, I was happy to participate. Presented by the 9-11 Tower Challenge Foundation, the event raises money for the 100 Club of Arizona and Northern Arizona University students in the Army and Air Force ROTC programs.

The 100 Club supports first responders in the state who are killed in the line of duty. The connection with first responders who bravely did their jobs on Sept. 11, 2001, is self-evident.

Now 18 years removed from that tragic day whose consequences are regularly felt in every sector of society, I nonetheless must admit that I often forget the emotional impact. Families of first responders don’t have that luxury.

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The 9-11 Tower Challenge dared me to remember over the course of 2,071 steps in the Walkup Skydome -- the number of steps each of the Twin Towers had in their respective 110 floors. Photos of first responders who died that day were taped to the chairs, where we could see them as we climbed up and down.

“The energy that everyone shows toward remembering that day in however they choose to participate, some cadets wearing full packs, some firefighters wearing their turnout gear, some carrying a flag with the names of everybody who died in the Twin Towers,” Braatz said, “that is what stands out to me, that they walk those 2,071 steps in the Skydome to show they will never forget.”

This year, in addition to seeing those photos, people will receive the identification badge of one of those fallen first responders, a further reminder of the significance of the walk and of the human beings who are willing to put their lives on the line for others.

The event is solemn and thoughtful, to be sure, but it is also a celebration. When a community can summon two ends of a spectrum like that, it stays with you.

I will be walking/running it again this week. Are the rest of you runners up for the fourth annual 9-11 Tower Challenge? I didn’t run Imogene yesterday as some of you did, but you have until Wednesday to recover. I promise you, it’s an opportunity to think about the next steps you climb with a little more humility and gratitude.

To register and for more information, go to 911towerchallengefoundation.org.

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Myles Schrag is co-editor of “To Imogene, a Flagstaff Love Letter” and co-founder of Soulstice Publishing (soulsticepublishing.com).

Do you have a column, tip or idea for High Country Running? Run it over to coordinating editor Julie Hammonds at runner@juliehammonds.com, or tweet her @highcountry_run.


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