Climbing 1,179 stairs in just minutes is hard enough, but three Ottumwa firefighters are adding 70 pounds of equipment into the mix.
James Gillespie, Cory Dillon and Josh Reynolds will head to the 2013 Fight for Air Climb on April 7 in Des Moines to climb every step in full gear.
The annual climb is held to benefit the American Lung Association in Iowa in their efforts to battle all forms of lung disease and raise awareness. Each climber must raise at least $100 to participate, but Ottumwa’s three firefighters are hoping to each raise $200 to go toward the cause.
“We’re close to that goal, but every dollar raised counts,” Reynolds said.
In between climbing the stairwells of Ottumwa’s high-rise towers, the firefighters have headed to the Ottumwa YMCA and Anytime Fitness to work out on the stair climbers.
“We’ve been training since Jan. 1, doing a lot of cardio,” Reynolds said.
Each man will tackle one building in the competition. Gillespie will climb the 32 floors (446 steps) of the Downtown Des Moines Marriott Hotel, Dillon will climb the 19 floors (364 steps) of the Hub Tower and Reynolds will climb the 17 floors (369 steps) of the EMC Insurance Companies building.
While each team will battle it out to take home traveling trophies and win bragging rights for the next year, it’s really about donating to a good cause and staying fit and healthy, the firefighters said.
“With our job, it’s very important to be physically fit anyway,” Reynolds said. “But one of the reasons why I want to do this is because everyone knows somebody who’s been affected by lung disease.”
One of Reynolds’ grandfathers has emphysema, the other has asthma and his father-in-law has lung cancer.
Staying in shape means better lung capacity, which means the firefighters use less of the oxygen in their tanks when fighting fires. While the tanks are equipped for 30 minutes of air, most can usually only get about 15 minutes out of them when they are under a lot of physical stress.
Now, the three Ottumwa firefighters training for the climbing competition said they could probably get 20 minutes out of the tanks.
“That five minutes could be the difference between life and death, for us or for someone else,” Reynolds said.
The firefighters climbed Westgate Towers’ nine stories three times up and down Wednesday morning.
The goal is to pace themselves throughout the climb instead of sprinting at either end of the climb to boost their finishing times.
“If we have anything left, we’ll go hard at the end, but I didn’t have anything left at the end of it last year,” Gillespie said. “It’s so hard on your lungs. You’re breathing so hard. Me and the other guys who did it last year were still coughing a couple days after the climb.”
Last year was the first year an Ottumwa firefighter team participated, made up of Gillespie, Josh Chance and Ron Klein.
The winning team last year finished climbing all three buildings in approximately nine minutes, with the Ottumwa firefighters finishing in 11 minutes. More than 100 teams will participate, including individuals, families, firefighters, police officers and more.
Wapello County Rural Fire is also sending a team of firefighters to compete in the volunteer firefighter category, though the team could not be reached for comment as of press time Wednesday.
To donate, go to the American Lung Association's Fight for Air Climb website by clicking here. Under "Donate," click donate to a team. You can search for participants by team or by individual. Click on a team or name and follow the instructions to make your contribution.