Raglan’s firefighting couple says competing in the New York City Memorial Stair Climb was a humble and moving experience.
Leanna and Dan Mills, who returned home from the United States on Monday, were among 381 firefighters who raced in full kit up 72 floors of the 4 World Trade Center in the third annual stair climb.
Leanna, who came second out of 28 women and 65th overall, says “it was a very moving experience to be climbing a tower in the same location where 343 firefighters lost their lives in one single event trying to help others”.
She says every competitor carried the tag of a fallen firefighter from the 9/11 World Trade Center attack.
Photos of the fallen firefighters were hanging inside the stairwell and at the finish line, “not just pictures of themselves but pictures of them with their families”.
Leanna says security was high at the event.
“There were police everywhere outside, and the roads around the building were shut.
“When we entered the building we were patted down, went through metal detectors and had our bags searched.”
Although seasoned stair climbers – the couple competed in Auckland and Melbourne last year – Leanna says the climb was an incredibly hard event.
“At the start they hand us a plastic bag to throw up in in case we need it.
“Both Dan and myself got to the top without stopping which was a massive achievement in itself.”
As she climbed, there were people at every level bent over gasping for air.
“Your ears are hurting from the quick elevation as you go up. There is no time to stop and equalise.”
A big bell was rung in memory of each fallen firefighter every time the finish line was crossed.
Leanna climbed in memory of Stephen Olsen and Dan, who finished sixth in the men’s 40-99 age group and 33rd overall, climbed for Samuel Oitice.
Of her second placing, Leanna says there’s a high chance that the winning woman might be disqualified for wearing running shoes and no gloves, “which will put me up to first”.
In the meantime, she plans on defending her title in the Firefighter Sky Tower Challenge in Auckland on May 13.
Both Leanna and Dan won their respective age groups in the climb last year, with Leanna being the fastest woman overall.
Five firefighters from Raglan will compete in the event this year. Inger Vos