Like many of his estimated 2,000 participating colleagues from around the world, the LLS Firefighter Stairclimb is personal for Ryan Shervanick of Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One.
The event, scheduled for March 13 and billed as the world’s largest firefighter competition, is a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to fight blood cancers. Shervanick’s grandfather, Max Young, passed away from a pre-leukemia blood condition.
“Every year I climb in honor of him,” as well as a son of family friends who successfully battled childhood leukemia, Shervanick said.
In 2021, Gig Harbor firefighters climbed the Finholm Stairs in downtown Gig Harbor to participate virtually in the LLS Firefighter Stairclimb. On Sunday, March 13, they will join the real thing at the Columbia Tower in downtown Seattle. Courtesy of Ryan Shervanick
Many participating firefighters have similarly been personally touched by leukemia and other cancers. Others participate in the spirit of giving back (also common among firefighters), while some just appreciate a good workout.
And, oh, what a workout.
The climb involves 1,356 steps over 69 flights of stairs. They do it in full firefighting gear, carrying 50 to 60 pounds on their backs. It’s a 788-foot elevation gain, which most participants finish in about 20 minutes.
Elite climbers cover that distance in the 11-minute range. Shervick is shooting for a sub-18 minute climb; his personal best is around 16:30.
It’s a legit competition,” said Shervick, who will be climbing for the 16th time on Sunday. “They have time chips, they check everybody’s gear to make sure everybody has everything. It’s pretty competitive.”
Also competitive: The race to raise the most money among the participating teams. The 15-member Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One team is currently 10th with $25,628 pledged. Several much larger departments — like Seattle, Tacoma and Boise, Idaho — are in front.
Retired Gig Harbor Assistant Chief Steve Nixon is eighth on the individual leaderboard, having raised $9,406 for the cause. Nixon will be climbing for the 30th year in 2022.
And there’s still plenty of time to contribute. You can do that here, and donations will be taken even after the event.
This year’s competition will be the first in more than two years to take place in person. Last year, Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One’s team participated virtually by climbing the Finholm Steps, which is also where many local firefighters train for the event.
You have to climb Finholm a lot to replicate the 1,356 steps of the Columbia Tower.
Sixty-nine flights of stairs is enough to tire even the toughest firefighter. Fortunately, volunteers wait at the top to help exhausted climbers remove their gear and hydrate.
How do you feel when you complete the climb?
“Completely spent,” said Shervick, who is captain of the Gig Harbor team and secretary of Local 3390 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, the Gig Harbor Professional Firefighters union. “A lot of firefighters pride them selves on bravado, bring tough, being self-sufficient.
“But it’s one of those times when you’re completely spent. Just take this (gear) off of me and let me have some water.”
Fortunately, they get to take the elevator back down.
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