By Connor Dziawura

To commemorate those who lost their lives at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, an annual benefit challenge is returning.

Only this time it’s going virtual.

Concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic are still high, but the 9/11 Tower Challenge Foundation is vowing to “never forget” what happened on that tragic day—and to continue to honor first responders and military.

The idea behind its yearly 9/11 Tower Challenge is simple: First responders and civilians alike are asked to climb the number of stairs in each of the Twin Towers—which had 110 floors and 2,071 steps. As an alternative, organizers suggest walkers can trek an estimated 1.25 miles or runner complete a 5K.

Opening ceremonies will be streamed at 6 a.m. MST September 11, but beyond that, it’s up to the participants—virtual attendees can choose their own time and location to complete the challenge.

Registration starts at $40 and, for the first 1,000 participants to sign up, includes a T-shirt, coin, badge and swag bag. Proceeds are then used to support community organizations.

“We believe in honoring those lives that have been lost and basically creating that legacy in perpetuity, and I think that’s important,” explains Angela Harrolle, CEO of 100 Club of Arizona, one of the beneficiaries.

“9/11 had such a huge impact on our nation in many different capacities, but obviously a significant effect on law enforcement and firefighters nationwide, and (the challenge is) the least that we can do here in the Valley to commemorate those that really, really, truly were affected, either because they had family involved, friends involved or they’re working in a different capacity here in the Valley.”

The 100 Club of Arizona—which has been involved in the annual event since its inception—is one of several beneficiaries of the 911 Tower Challenge Foundation this year, alongside Boulder Crest Foundation and the NAU Army and Air Force ROTC.

“(Boulder Crest) is a facility located down in Southern Arizona that helps provide mental health and wellness support to those that have experienced traumas—not only military but also in public safety,” Harrolle describes.

“In Flagstaff, the ROTC program up there through the college and the community, they are in great need. We’re still going to incorporate that so that they can push those funds back into their program up there—and specifically in Flagstaff.”

The 100 Club of Arizona provides financial assistance as well as other resources, such as wellness support and scholarships, to families of first responders killed or injured in the line of duty.

“The money that is raised from this event helps go back to support those that are on the ground every day protecting us and responding on our worst days, and that’s the beauty of it,” Harrolle says.

“We’re just making sure that it continues to fund our programs and we can do even more for the community together by the support of this event.”

The shift from an in-person event in Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff—previously held at venues like ASU and, more recently, Gila River Arena during Valley iterations—to a virtual format makes for some changes in presentation. When held on location, photos of people who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, are placed in the venues.

Still, the goal is the same this year.

“It’s unfortunate with many events, they’ve kind of gone by the wayside,” Harrolle observes, acknowledging that Tower Challenge organizers didn’t want to sacrifice the yearly memorial and benefit altogether.

“We’re in Arizona—the great hiking state, so to speak—and people can do this on their own time or on their own terms,” she continues.

“They can still hike their same number of stairs that were climbed in the towers on 9/11—and they can do it whether they’re in Flagstaff on Humphreys Peak; or they can go to Sedona to Bear Mountain; or if they’re in San Diego, like a lot of the Arizonans … they can do it there, again, on their own terms but taking a moment to just appreciate those that served and lost their lives.”

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