Spokane Valley firefighter Joseph Connelly described his climb up 69 flights of stairs at the Columbia Center in Seattle as the 13 most “grueling minutes of his life.”
Connelly, along with about 2,000 other firefighters on Sunday, participated in the so-called “stair climb” to raise money for blood cancer research. He placed 14th out of a group of firefighters from 26 states and six countries. They raised $2.4 million total.
He said the climb was especially meaningful to him because his father died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma when Connelly, who is now 28, was just 19 months old.
“It’s emotional to start, because of my family history, but as you’re doing it, all you can think of is taking your next step,” he said.
Even before becoming a Spokane Valley firefighter, Connelly said he has always wanted to participate in the stair-climbing challenge. He said climbing the stairs in full firefighting gear was far more challenging than any of his other athletic accomplishments, such as an Ironman triathlon in Coeur d’Alene.
“It’s by far the most physically intense thing that I’ve done,” he said.
Most of his memories of his father, who died at the age of 27, are stories and photos other people shared with him. He said even though he can’t remember much about him, he knows his dad would be proud.
“He always cared about others and put them before himself,” he said.
Aja Estrada, spokeswoman for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, said 88 firefighters from the Spokane area were able to raise about $93,000 of the total amount for cancer research.
Last year, firefighters raised $2.6 million total, and people can still donate to the fundraiser until June, she said.
This story was changed on March 11 to correctly identify Spokane Valley Firefighter Joseph Connelly.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.