There are many different ways people remember Sept. 11, 2001. For Columbia County resident Nathan Chess, it’s by climbing 110 flights of stairs in full turnout gear.
The 110 floors — 2,200 steps — signifies the floors that were in the World Trade Center that was hit by a plane 17 years ago.
“The basic idea is to remember the 343 people who died in line of duty on Sept. 11, 2001,” Chess said. “I do it for that reason and for the volunteer and paid firefighters who pass away every day. I do it to remember them all.”
This year, on Sept. 16, Chess will be heading to Binghamton for his sixth climb at the Binghamton State Office Building. Over the years, he has participated in climbs across the state, including one at CitiField.
In the beginning, Chess wasn’t sure that he would be able to complete the event.
“I work out on a regular basis — I’m an active volunteer with Churchtown Fire Company — and in order to maintain my abilities, I have to stay in shape,” he said. “The training has become more intense for the climb since the beginning. It becomes harder and harder every year. It’s an arduous undertaking.”
Heading into his 65th year this month, Chess is unsure how many more of these climbs he will participate in. Instead, he’s focused on the task at hand and is on track to be able to complete his mission.
“I do pretty specific training,” Chess said, noting that he works out a lot at Planet Fitness in Hudson. “Being in Planet Fitness, in full gear, on the stair climbing machine, people look at me a bit funny. Most are pretty complimentary after they realize there’s no fire in the building. Planet Fitness has been great in supporting me with this.”
Originally from the city, Chess has been volunteering with Churchtown for 12 years and is a Class A interior firefighter as well as a certified first responder.
“When I moved up here and was able to ease back with work, I felt it was necessary to get involved,” Chess said. “All of our first responders are volunteers in Columbia and Greene Counties and this is my way of giving back to these communities.”
Besides being a firefighter, Chess has another personal attachment to the climb.
“I have a history with the World Trade Center,” he said, noting that he worked in construction for 35 years, mostly in Manhattan. “I was in those buildings, often on weekly basis, and lost friends in the construction industry on 9/11.”
Participating in the 9/11 stair climb means a lot to Chess and finishing it is no easy thing.
“It’s like hitting yourself on the toe with a hammer — it feels good when you stop,” he said. “Finishing the climb is a feeling of relief and a personal feeling of accomplishment.”
Chess will lose three-to-five pounds of water weight in the climb. Being dressed in full gear, he adds roughly 75 pounds to his frame.
“The gear is designed to keep the heat out, and it does pretty well at keeping it in, too,” he said.
Chess looks forward to the event each year for many reasons, including the camaraderie that comes with it.
“It’s a gathering, it’s not a race. I keep track of time, but do it slow and methodical,” he said. “People do it in full gear, guys and gals do it in t-shirts and shorts. It’s a good group experience.
“It’s good for me, good for my health and a good way to raise money, as well.”
For more information on memorial 9/11 stair climbs, visit www.firehero.org.