There sure are some crazy things happening around the world now. It seems like drugs and cartel have taken over South and Central America and their children are fleeing from there to here. As if North America is any better. We’re the ones who are using all those drugs. Greed and extreme religion has taken over the Middle East. For any human being to think that beheading someone is the right thing to do is completely beyond me. The Ebola virus has taken over Africa. And bad design has taken over the stages of New York’s Fashion Week this week!!! Ok, that last comment was sarcastic… but really.
Way too much craziness. We’ve become mad!
So in the middle of it all, I’m trying to raise a family, make a living, be a loud mouth against cancer, advocate for safer roads, and train for silly events to keep me living a healthy lifestyle. The world isn’t making this easy for me. How YOU doing?
It was about this time last year that I changed my training around to make it more “fun” so that I didn’t burn out. So when I got a note asking me to participate in the McAllen Stair Challenge in honor of the fire fighters who lost their lives and those who survived and continued to give of themselves for us… I couldn’t resist.
I’ve been training well. I feel good, strong, healthy… why not? I can climb stairs!
Oh boy… sure, I’ll give you permission to rub this one in my face. I deserve it.
Alright, let’s begin. Remember how I had briefly talked about hurting my hamstrings right before TriRock triathlon? Well, Coach W said that hamstring injuries occur pretty often when the leg muscles around the hamstrings become more developed and start to take up the slack that your weaker hamstrings can’t handle. Guess what I did? I started doing lots of hamstring strength exercises!!! AND GOT SORE.
So I went to Kefah. Kefah is this wicked fast runner who the locals pay to have him torture our legs so that we may run faster. He has this way of “massaging” your legs while making you hold your breath and turn various shades of red, purple and blue, dig your head into the bed and pound your hands into anything near by in excruciating agony and then still give him a tip. Aaaaannnnddd yes, I did that. And boy did he get after me!!! Telling me that I knew better than to do this. That I should have been coming in way before the event and two or three times a week. He was right. Life caught up to me and I’m trying hard to balance priorities. I always feel guilty doing things for myself like massages or mani/pedis or shopping or getting my hair done. In the end, I either don’t do them at all or I do it myself… and I don’t do any of that stuff like a professional does.
My legs were tight. Tighter than they have ever been before for any event. I was worried. The last thing I needed was for my hammies to pop just when I decided to do a full marathon later this year. All Friday night and all day Saturday, I was stretching, massaging, rolling, stretching, massaging, rolling, etc…
Sunday morning comes around and I jump into my gear. It’s been raining a lot so I packed some additions into my bag … you know.. just in case… and I zoomed over to Chase Tower. I put on a little mascara and liner while in the car really as an excuse to see if anyone was in the cars next to me or around me to see… and when I saw that the coast was clear, I used the rest of that whole big old bottle of that Perform/Bio Freeze spray I loved at TriRock all over my legs. I went from my butt down to my ankles. I wanted to make sure there was going to be as little pain as possible. Whew! No one saw!
BUT THEY SURE CAN SMELL ME!!!
There was no hiding my secret.
I checked in. Got my badge and was scurried over to the East parking lot where the most incredible prayer, song and music played.
And then the Bagpipes led us to the stairwell… oh but first… a selfie
And off we went…
By chance, I was placed behind the first group of fire fighters. I didn’t think of it at the time about how important this was…
One of the men apologized within the first few steps for how badly his gear smelled. “Are you kidding me? We’re all runners and triathletes here. We smell like this all the time. It’s me that should be apologizing!” I smirked back.
I had just started on the stairs and was at the second and a half floor when I felt my heart start to go berserk. OMG! Already? I thought I was more fit than this!!! Myssie, there is NO way you’re going to be able to do 110 flights of stairs if you’re winded on the second floor. GIVE UP before you make a fool of yourself.
Y’all remember her? I don’t think she needs an introduction anymore.
Ok, I’m just going to slow down a bit. That’s all. Not gonna stop. Not gonna stop. Oh! There’s a leak in here!
I look up and it’s not a leak. At least not from the roof – of which I had expected it to be coming from with all the rain. It was from a fireman sweating profusely and spilling over on to me from the flight above me. Eww.
Don’t you DARE say anything! I don’t want a face on you or your nose stuck up in the air. Don’t you be that girl! Suck it up. THEY ARE! And so should you!
We were at about the fifth floor and the group of firemen that were around me were struggling. Already drenched in sweat and their pace declining, I saw them look around at the walls. Unlike marathons where family, friends and nearby residents crowd by the streets with posters filled with encouragement and cheers… we had art work drawn on manilla paper from the students of McAllen. We all had to smile. Some were just jaw dropping spectacular and some clearly were not meant for the Art profession but what radiated through each piece was heart and good intentions. As each of us wobbled through the next flight, we eagerly looked to the walls to see what the next one would say to us. We loved them… misspellings and all!
Gaspy conversations kept us busy. I got to know a few of these brave souls who selflessly risk their lives trying to save strangers they’ll likely never know and the material possessions the strangers value. One of them told me about his visit to New York’s Ground Zero just six months ago and got to listen to the recordings of the communication transmissions for one of the stations on September 11th. How heart wrecking is that???? And he still shows up to work after hearing this!!!
Another spoke of how just yesterday he worked a crazy long shift and got out just in time to do this event.
Another responded to a compliment given by a civilian about how well their city’s fire crew works so well with each other… “Oh we are all from different cities but these guys are like brothers. Sometimes I see them more than I see my own family.”
Another spoke about how he was watching the special on Remembering 9/11 on the fire station’s television when the alarm sounded and there was a huge structural fire that he now needed to tend to. And he did. On September 11 of this year.
Story after story of heroism, selflessness, strength, challenges, fear and compassion all poured out of them on those stairs and into my ears and heart. These were a different breed of humans. They are silent, humble, jolly, helpful, courteous people who know what to do, how to do it and know who to do it with to get the job done safely and quickly so that the least amount of God’s creation is harmed.
These were not the type of people who would make children from their country flee in terror because of the illegal business they were trying to bully into their country. These were not the type of people who would behead another human being to illicit fear and power to gain territory or that their religion is above all else’s. These are also not the people that we would normally associate power and greatness with. You don’t see these guys at the head table of galas nor are they given special treatment by politicians. They are not elected. They aren’t given front row tickets to concerts, fly first class to exotic vacations or drive fancy schmancy cars. And that’s such a shame because when we feel like we are in danger, we call on them… the powerful ones who can control fire, who can combat destruction, who can save our loved ones. When did we become so backwards?
So many of my friends and teammates were at the Tri for Education at UTPA this morning and I felt odd that I wasn’t there either competing or volunteering – they all seemed to have done exceptionally well – but I really enjoyed this unusual event and off track workout (it really was THE toughest workout I’ve ever done to date). I have never felt my cardio levels pushed this far, my legs become this strong and still be in such control of my body to demand even more from it.
When I looked down on my bracelet, I realized that I was on my last “loop”. I took the service elevator down and the crowd on the first floor applauded and led me to the bell. As I stood in front of the bell, dressed in my Edinburg Fire Chief Johnny Economedes tee shirt and baseball cap (given to me to wear by his daughter, DeAnne), I showed my climber badge to the officer. It had a laminated photo of Martin DeMeo on it. He was the fire fighter that I was climbing for. He was just a few years older than me. He died on September 11, 2001, at the Twin Towers while trying to save those trapped in the buildings. He left behind a wife and two teenaged children. As I lifted the badge up, the officer saluted me. I felt awkward and unworthy. I just climbed some stairs and came out sweaty. Martin DeMeo never came out. My head fell. The officer told me to go ring the bell for Martin.
And I did. For him and for all of those who did this for us and those who bravely continue to.
There was a sense of invigoration that was planted in me. Not having my usual suspects around me gave the opportunity to observe more, listen more, feel more. And I liked it. In fact, I loved what I saw. I realize that there are bad people who will likely never change, there are good people who make mistakes, good people who make bad choices and good people who do mostly good. And even in this mad mad world… the good still outweigh the bad.
Martin DeMeo, 47, of Farmingville, was a 16-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department, working in the hazardous materials unit in Maspeth. Remains were recovered.
Martin DeMeo used to be disappointed if he wasn’t working when a “big job” occurred, his wife, Joanie DeMeo, said. “He always wanted to be out there helping in a big job. It’s ironic, he died in what was the biggest job there could be.”
But, early in their 18-year marriage, “he talked about death. He felt he wouldn’t live a long life,” said his wife, now 58. “He felt if he could envision how he would pass, it would be doing something he loved, and that was firefighting. Almost like this.”
His other passion was baseball – as a Yankees fan, memorabilia collector, and father of a Little Leaguer. Their son, Nicholas, 14 when his father died, pitched a game the Sunday after 9/11.
His father stressed discipline and persistence, and “it kept his focus in the right place during a very difficult time,” DeMeo said. “My son was very angry, and if he didn’t have that focus I’m not quite sure what direction we’d be heading in right now.
In late December, Nicholas DeMeo will graduate from the New York City Police Academy. The DeMeos’ daughter, Kristen, 26, is “quite happy,” working as a Suffolk County probation officer, married to a NYPD officer, her mother said.
DeMeo is now in a relationship with a retired firefighter, and they are close friends with her late husband’s best friend, Frank Virga, and his family. Virga, also of Farmingville, helped get a ballfield in Morris Avenue Park named in DeMeo’s honor.
“He was a true friend; if you needed him for something, he wouldn’t ask questions. He’d just show up,” Virga said. “I think about him often. It’s a little bit easier now, and sometimes more difficult.”
DeMeo “was just a regular guy, but he was my hero and my children’s hero,” his wife said. “He was fun-loving and an incredible father and I miss him every day.” – Carol Polsky
Hundreds of climbers participated in the inaugural McAllen Stair Climb. Each climber carried a lanyard with the picture of one of the 343 firefighters who perished in the Twin Towers. Participants climbed the 17 floors of the Neuhaus Tower 6 1/2 times to complete the challenge.