Firefighters step up to challenge

A 72-year-old man from South Whidbey is set to compete in a grueling stair-climbing competition.

A 72-year-old man from South Whidbey is set to compete in a grueling stair-climbing competition this weekend.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Firefighter Stairclimb takes place at the Columbia Center in Seattle this Sunday, March 12. Every year, career, volunteer and retired firefighters strap on their hefty gear and summit the 69 flights of stairs in the 933-foot-tall building, which amounts to 1,356 steps. Before the event, participants raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure for cancer.

South Whidbey Fire/EMS has a team that competes, which includes several firefighters, Fire Chief Nick Walsh and Commissioner Jim Towers, a retired firefighter who volunteered for 35 years. Towers is now 72, and estimates that he has done the climb more than 10 times in his lifetime.

“I think I’m the oldest participant by maybe 20 years,” he said with a laugh about his team.

The climb is no easy feat, especially when factoring in 50 pounds of gear and a breathing apparatus. Towers said he has been training since shortly before Christmas by strapping on the gear and using a stair-climbing piece of gym equipment.

He acknowledged that turnout in his age group is usually low. Last year, the climb took him about 45 minutes to complete. Even then, he was far from last place.

“The very serious guys do it in about 11 minutes. They are training for it year-round and they’re all in their 20s,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m delighted to make it to the top. It’s a long way up, that building.”

The Columbia Center is the second tallest building west of the Mississippi River.

“Once you start, it’s fine,” Towers said. “But the five minutes before the start, you look up at the tower and go, ‘I’m not going to make that.’”

He plans to continue doing the climb, as long as he’s fit enough. And, as he pointed out, the event raises funds for a great cause.

Photo provided