Dozens of students and community members gathered at Kenan Memorial Stadium Monday morning at 6 a.m. to complete the annual 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb.
Runners bounded up and down the series of staircases for a grand total of 2,076 steps: the same number that first responders climbed as they scaled the Twin Towers.
“Today we remember that fateful day, sixteen years ago, that changed America,” Luke Boehm, Army ROTC battalion commander, said during his speech at the beginning of the event.
The event was hosted by the UNC Army ROTC, but climbers also included students from the Naval and Air Force ROTC, UNC sports teams, local first responders and the Chapel Hill-Durham fitness group F3.
“We’ve been doing this for five years now,” said David Baddour, a member of F3. “It’s a sad day. But we just try to honor the people who went into the building and tried to help out. That’s why we’re here.”
Even for ROTC members and student athletes, the sheer number of stairs makes the climb difficult. Army ROTC student Connor Lewis said his fellow students help him persevere.
“It means a lot to me,” Lewis said. “By following the people in front of me, they’re going to motivate me through.”
Some participants take on extra weight to honor those who fought so bravely to save lives. A few men carried the American flag as they climbed and another held an oxygen tank — Chapel Hill firefighter Scott Caroll, climbed in full uniform.
Chancellor Carol Folt could not fully participate in the climb this year due to a knee injury, but she stood on the football field in support of the climbers. She said she always finds the experience meaningful.
“The more you see it, the more you start feeling it,” Folt said.
Folt said 9/11 holds a very strong place in the community’s heart and that she was moved to be able to be a part of the experience.
“I just come here because I’m just moved that our own ROTC students [and] lots of other students come, our own first responders come, and they take every single step,” Folt said.
The Memorial Stair Climb allowed participants to remember the sacrifices made on 9/11, while also honoring the American heroes who risked their lives to save others. Luke Boehm expressed this idea poignantly in his speech.
“When you get tired of running, look to the person behind you and the person in front of you," he said. "Remember why we are here.”
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