Never Forgotten: Annual stair climb commemorating bravery of 9/11 first responders moves to Boone Pickens Stadium for first time
Tuesday, December 20, 2022
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One hundred and ten flights. Two thousand, two hundred steps. The climb first responders made on Sept. 11, 2001, inside the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City is hard to imagine for most.
But on Sept. 11, 2022, over 150 participants from around the country came to commemorate first responders’ bravery and courage on the steps of Boone Pickens Stadium as part of the annual 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb hosted by the Oklahoma State University Fire Protection Society and OSU Firefighter Challenge Team.
“To be a part of something like this is truly fulfilling,” said Baylor Cobb, fire protection and safety engineering technology (FPSET) senior.
Cobb is a member of the Fire Protection Society and Firefighter Combat Challenge Team and has been head of the Stair Climb Organization Committee for the past two years.
“The amount of climbers this year, from faculty to staff to students to community members, speaks volumes to everyone’s willingness to come out and memorialize and pay respects to those first responders,” he said.
The event provides the opportunity to earn a better understanding of what first responders went through on that tragic day 21 years ago. It’s a way to honor the courage and heroism exhibited on that day and those that made the ultimate sacrifice during rescue efforts.
For Kendra Cadena, FPSET student and vice president of the OSU Fire Protection Society, it’s a way to remember the lives lost on that day, but also honor her father, Eric Cadena, a career firefighter of 26 years who currently serves the City of San Antonio.
“My dad is my biggest inspiration,” Kendra said. “He entered the fire service right out of high school but began pursuing his secondary education when I was in middle school. He just received his master’s degree and is now pursuing his doctorate in fire and emergency management here at OSU.”
“To have this kind of memorial here is important for OSU, our fire protection programs and our history. This event is the kind of outreach we should be doing, and it’s great to see it grow to this point.”
The younger Cadena hadn’t planned on pursuing a FPSET degree, but applied to OSU after her dad showed her a video highlighting the program.
“It was a feeling I had never felt before,” Kendra said. “When I received my acceptance letter to OSU, I knew that is where I belonged and the path I was supposed to follow. This program gives me the opportunity to protect civilians, but it also allows me to make the first responders’ jobs as safe as possible.”
As soon as Eric learned that OSU hosted its own memorial stair climb, he knew he had to make the trip to Stillwater every year to experience it with his daughter.
“Coming here for the stair climb means a lot,” Eric said. “I’ve done stair climbs every year in the San Antonio area, but now that my daughter is a student here, I get to come to Stillwater and support her while honoring my fellow first responders.”
Fire protection has been a staple at OSU since the 1930s, and the university’s programs continue to be recognized as some of the premier programs in fire protection and safety engineering in the world. This annual event also pays homage to the history of OSU and to those that have graduated from these programs.
“To have this kind of memorial here is important for OSU, our fire protection programs and our history,” said Dr. Rob Agnew, an associate professor in fire protection and safety and academic advisor for the Fire Protection Society. “This event is the kind of outreach we should be doing, and it’s great to see it grow to this point.”
OSU has hosted the memorial stair climb for nearly a decade, but this year’s climb was the first to be held at Boone Pickens Stadium. The new location not only provided a more unique experience for climbers, but also allowed for a more efficient climb than in years past.
“The last couple of years we had climbers make 22 circuits inside Engineering North,” Cobb said. “It’s an intimidating number of laps and an environment that isn’t very appealing for participants, which is why this year I really wanted to get permission to use Boone Pickens Stadium.”
The physical and mental fatigue that first responders endured on that day is not something lost on anyone that participates in the climb.
“It’s tough,” Kendra said. “But it’s something I plan on doing with my dad until we can’t physically do it anymore.”
Attendees made the climb in various attire, from shorts and T-shirts to full bunker gear.
“We did it once and were tired, and they did it numerous times that day,” Cobb said. “It puts into perspective the courage and sacrifice those first responders demonstrated.”
The Fire Protection Society was founded in 1937 and is the oldest student organization on campus. It provides students with opportunities in public service, academic and professional development, and leadership development, as well as social interaction with other students in the FPSET program.
The OSU Firefighter Challenge Team is the only four-year collegiate team participating in the 3M Scott Firefighter Challenge. The team’s mission is to provide insight into how physically demanding a firefighter’s job is, to encourage members to live healthy lifestyles and instill high professional standards of conduct.
“This is something that promotes our emergency responders and is in the DNA of OSU,” Agnew said. “I hope we continue to support the emergency services community and continue to grow awareness for those that are dedicated to helping our communities every day.”
Whether you run, walk or crawl, Kenrda said making “the climb” gives every participant the chance to connect with those that lost their lives on that day and pay tribute to the men and women in the emergency services that made that choice without hesitation.
“I like to clear my mind and take each step purposefully,” Kendra said. “It’s my way of honoring and remembering all those that lost their lives that day, 21 years ago.”
Photos By: Gary Lawson and CEAT
Story By: Jeff Hopper | STATE Magazine