Stair climb honors 9/11 heroes

Hundreds of first responders, ROTC cadets and others joined in the annual 9/11 Memorial Climb at Kenan Stadium.

A firefighter holding an American flag and running up stadium steps.
Senior Evan Fedock and hundreds others climbed 2,071 stairs at Kenan Stadium on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, at the 9/11 Memorial Climb. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Wearing his firefighter gear and carrying an American flag hung from a tool called a New York Hook, Evan Fedock was ready.

The Carolina senior and volunteer firefighter with the Wake County Durham Highway Fire Department joined hundreds of others from the Triangle area before sunrise Monday on the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They climbed 2,071 stairs in Kenan Stadium to honor the 2,977 people killed in the terrorist attacks that day in 2001. Over 400 of the victims were first responders.

On that day, members of the extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four commercial airplanes. They flew two of the planes into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, causing their collapse. Another plane struck the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. The fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to regain control.

With those events on their minds on the cool, humid morning, the climbers gathered at 6 a.m. Some wore shorts and tank tops, some were in military uniforms with heavy backpacks and some wore their UNC Police uniforms. ROTC cadets and officers from North Carolina Central University, Duke University, St. Augustine’s University and other Triangle universities were there, along with some Carolina student-athletes, local workout groups, members of the Sigma Nu fraternity and parents with children.

“Being here today is a way to give back to the community and help keep up this tradition,” Fedock said of the event hosted annually by UNC Army ROTC.

It was the third 9/11 climb for senior Mohammad Qassem, the UNC Army ROTC cadet battalion commander, who spoke to participants.

“It’s a privilege and an honor to be here,” he said. “Some people will be tired, but we will motivate each other to keep going.”

Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz participated in the climb and spoke to the crowd briefly before introducing Lt. Col. Dan Hurd, the chair of the military science department. Hurd said that the event is a remembrance of heroes and the valor and grace they showed on 9/11. He said that climbing the stairs shows “gratitude for the first responders who run to the fire, to the gunshot and to the accident.”

A U.S. Army member speaking into a microphone at a lectern on a football field. Four people sitting behind him to his right focus their attention on him as he speaks.

Lt. Col. Dan Hurd (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Army ROTC cadets stationed around the stadium led groups of climbers up and down stairs. The cadets wore 35-pound backpacks as they kept the groups moving from section to section in a rotation around the lower stands. The stadium’s bright lights lit the scene and up-beat music played. Scoreboards above each end zone section featured the words “We will never forget” and art of the New York skyline with the twin towers highlighted. The LED ribbon board around the upper deck showed a waving, vibrant red, white and blue strip of the American flag.

Taffawee Johnson, a graduate student and staff sergeant, led one group that exchanged sweaty fist bumps going up and down the stairs. Cadet Melanie Carmichael, a junior, led another group and said that for her, the climb is a way to serve her country.

By 7:15 a.m., most participants had finished. Austin Durham, a fire engineer with the Elon, North Carolina, fire department, and his chief were shedding their uniforms and gathering equipment. When asked what the climb meant to him, Durham replied simply: “Everything.”

“I was 2 years old when 9/11 happened,” he said. “This is a fraction of what I can do for what they did.”