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Jim Tait 02/01-02/28/17

home : community : features August 19, 2017

3/10/2017 7:30:00 AM
Northwoods returns to NYC
Three local firefighters to ascend 72 stories to honor the fallen on 9/11
Contributed photographsMinocqua firefighters Arin Alesauskas, left, Andrew Alesauskas, center, and Kyle Ayvazzadeh wait outside the National September 11 Memorial before participating in the New York City Firefighters Stair Climb on March 13, 2016.
Contributed photographs

Minocqua firefighters Arin Alesauskas, left, Andrew Alesauskas, center, and Kyle Ayvazzadeh wait outside the National September 11 Memorial before participating in the New York City Firefighters Stair Climb on March 13, 2016.

Brothers Andrew (left) and Arin Alesauskas climb the 4 World Trade Center as part of the New York City Firefighter Memorial Stair Climb on March 13, 2016.
Brothers Andrew (left) and Arin Alesauskas climb the 4 World Trade Center as part of the New York City Firefighter Memorial Stair Climb on March 13, 2016.

Evan Verploegh
Features Reporter

Last year, Kyle Ayvazzadeh and brothers Arin and Andrew Alesauskas represented the Northwoods and the Minocqua Fire Department in participating in the New York City Firefighter Stair Climb. The trio is set to return to NYC on March 19 and approach the event with a new appreciation.

The New York City Firefighter Stair Climb is and commemorative event for the first responding FDNY, NYPD and PAPD to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Four-hundred-and-three (representing the number of serviceman who lost their lives on 9/11) firefighters from across the globe will climb the 72 stories of the World Trade Center, including Ayvazzadeh and the Alesauskas brothers.

The New York City Memorial Stair Climb is foremost a memorial climb, however each year fundraising campaign is conducted for the organization. The climb also hones into each firefighters' competitive spirit as they have the option to enter as a racer and be timed against other climbers.

Andrew Alesauskas said last year was a powerful experience for each climber and they honored to be participating in the 3rd annual climb.

"The camaraderie that we were able to share with other firefighters was worth the trip alone," Alesauskas said. "There were people there from 17 other countries participating last year, so it's pretty cool to connect with people from all walks of life."

As soon as the firefighters returned from NYC last year, they knew they wanted to return the following year, although that meant signing up as soon as the date was announced, as the 403 spots filled up quickly.

Celebratory, as opposed to somber, is the mood Alesauskas described the climb as. Not sure exactly what to expect, he said the three young Northwoods residents were welcomed with open arms in the city.

"We all represent one of the firefighters, or policemen who died on 9/11, and pictures are posted of them as you climb up the tower, so that aspect is very powerful," he said. "We're not New York guys, though, and a lot of the local people participating knew these people who were killed that day. Naturally, it means even more to them, but the atmosphere is pretty high spirited."

Curiosity and appreciation was one of the themes to resonated with the firefighters during their 2016 trip. They said everyone wanted to know where they were from, and their past experiences. They said that after the climb, as they were wearing their commemorative T-shirts, members of the public would stop them on the streets to take pictures with them.

That enthusiastic response extended to when the trio returned from the event.

"We're not doing it for ourselves. We didn't even tell hardly anyone before we went last year and by the time we landed in Milwaukee my phone was blowing up with TV news channels and newspapers all looking to do stories about the climb," Alesauskas said. "We didn't expect that, nor were we looking for that. We were there to represent the Minocqua Fire Department and honor those killed on 9/11."

Another aspect they did not expect was the grueling nature of the 72 story climb. Assured by their youthfulness, they were quickly brought back to reality as the trekked up the tower in their full firefighter gear.

"It's not that we're necessarily cocky people, but we had no idea how hard it was going to be," Arin Alesauskas said. "You're like, 'Oh, I'll just keep walking up the stairs, no problem.' Then your calves start hurting, your knees hurt, your hips hurt. By the last 10 floors we were literally pulling ourselves up by the railing."

Cautioned to pace themselves, the group shot off for the first few stories before quickly learning they could not sustain that pace. They expect to have a better plan of attack come March 19.

"Around floor 40 is when it really started to get tough and that's when everyone, who you don't even know, will start yelling, slapping you on the back and willing you to keep going," Andrew Alesauskas said.

"You're sweating, crying, you're just in so much pain. That's something pretty powerful right there. We're able to experience just that little bit of pain in memory of all the people who we've lost," Arin Alesauskas said.

They consider themselves very fortunate to be able to return again in 2017 to continue to honor the victims of 9/11.

The spirited energy of last year's climb is hoped to be extended towards the enthusiasm for the new, $2.4 million Minocqua fire station, which is set to break ground this spring and be completed by November.

"It's something that I hope the town is excited about," Andrew Alesauskas. Alesauskas and the other members of the department serve as volunteers.

Over 70 percent of the firefighters in the United States serve as volunteers and serve an integral role in small communities, such as Minocqua.

As young firefighters, the three have continually learned what 9/11 represents not only to New York City, but to the United States as a whole. This inspiration serves to drive them as they embark on another journey up the 72 stories of the World Trade Center.

"When you're climbing up those stairs and realize that those responders were doing the same thing, only with a burning building on top of them, it makes you realize the bravery they showed that day," Alesauskas said. "This climb puts things into perspective in a way that we may not have ever seen."

Kyle Ayvazzadeh and brothers Arin and Andrew Alesauskas will depart on March 16 for the climb on Sunday, March 19. They plan to see some more of the sights of New York City, including paying a visit to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

Evan Verploegh may be reached via email at everploegh@lakelandtimes.com.

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