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Monday, October 18, 2021

First responders, UF community remember 9/11 through stair climb

UF’s Collegiate Veterans Society hosted the event for Gainesville community to come together in remembrance of Sept. 11, 2001.

Anthony “Hutch” Hutchinson, Gainesville Fire Rescue first responder, marches up the stadium steps during the 5th Annual UF Collegiate Veterans Society 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.
Anthony “Hutch” Hutchinson, Gainesville Fire Rescue first responder, marches up the stadium steps during the 5th Annual UF Collegiate Veterans Society 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

Never forget. 

Separately, two words, ‘never’ and ‘forget’, have little meaning, but when used together they have the power to unite. 

Etched in countless American minds are the memories of the country gathered together in every home, school and place of work to watch the towers come crumbling down.  

Saturday marked 20 years since the tragic 9/11 attacks on America. First responders, Gainesville residents, UF students and even pets, arrived at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with flags raised high and heads bowed low, all in remembrance of the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001.

UF’s Collegiate Veterans Society hosted their fifth annual stair climb at the stadium to honor the brave men and women who gave their lives to save thousands. 

Beyond America’s losses that day, it gained a surge of patriotism that took over the country, a sense of unity and honor that remained strong at the stadium event. More than 300 people gathered to climb the stadium stairs from bottom to top 11 times as a symbolic representation of the approximately 1,980 steps the World Trade Center had.

9/11 Stair Climb

Austin Bush, Gainesville Fire Rescue firefighter EMT, stands during the national anthem at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

At the entrance of Gate 18 at about 8 a.m., the crowd listened to the words of speakers, such as Harold Theus, the fire chief of Alachua County Fire Rescue. One person summarized the events that took place on 9/11 with a story that was followed by the national anthem. 

Right before everyone was dismissed to start their climbs, at 8:46 a.m., the time the first plane flew into the north tower, every person paused for a moment of silence. 

Most people say they will never forget where they were when they heard the news, and for Savanna Turner, president of the Collegiate Veterans Society, her memories still bring her to tears. 

Turner was in the eighth grade on the day of the attack. That morning, she did not want to attend school that day. At about 8:45 a.m., she was in tears but did not know why. Her mother then calmed her down and encouraged her to go, she said. 

“I get into my English class and my teacher comes in, shuts all the blinds, turns the lights off, shuts the door and turns the TV on,” Turner said. “Right around that time, the second plane had hit the tower.” 

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Turner said this stair climb is done across the country, and as a student-led organization, CVS wanted to create a sense of community and organize it on a larger scale in Gainesville.

Being able to participate in such an event is special for many of the firemen in the area. 

“Those guys went to work that day, said goodbye to their wives, said goodbye to their children not knowing that they wouldn’t be coming home,” Greg Healy, a rescue lieutenant with Alachua County Fire Rescue, said. “We honor that when we do this.”

The honorary stadium climb provides each participant with the opportunity to individually reflect on what the day means to them.

“I’m thinking about why I joined the fire service in 2007 and thinking about the gentlemen that knew even when the first tower collapsed that there was a strong chance that the second tower was going to collapse — and they still went in anyways,” Healy said. 

Many demonstrations of all shapes and sizes are held across the nation as a way for Americans to honor the fallen. This stair climb is one of Gainesville’s ways of saying ‘we will never forget.’

Contact Elena Barrera at ebarrera@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @elenabarreraaa.




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Elena Barrera

Elena is a second-year journalism major with a minor in health sciences. She is currently reporting on University news for The Alligator. When she is not writing, Elena loves to work out, go to the beach and spend time with her friends and family


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