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Hot Springs 9/11 stair climb honors first responders, victims

9/11 Grand Stair Challenge (2023)
Krystal Miga
9/11 Grand Stair Challenge (2023)

Monday marked 22 years since the World Trade Center attack. Around the nation, people paused to honor the deadliest attack on American soil and the lives that changed forever. In Hot Springs, one commemoration was very physical.

People gathered around the 141-stair Battle Mountain Grand Staircase at dawn for a challenge to climb up and down the staircase 15 times – the equivalent of climbing one of the World Trade Center towers.

The climb kicked off at the same time American Airlines flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Mike Dewhurst is a retired New York City firefighter who responded that day. He led participants in one silent climb as a flag-bearer.

Dewhurst and his family moved to the Black Hills in 2020.

“Well, I’ll be honest with you. This is my fourth September 11th out here and I’m quite surprised that — let’s say in the immediate 100 miles — no one really does anything." Dewhurst said. "I understand it didn’t happen here, but in my opinion, it happened to the country.”

Dewhurst and his son, Joseph, came, in part, to honor the 343 New York firefighters who lost their lives responding on 9/11. He says for many, related illnesses and deaths continue.

“I’m not sure of the number, but we’re coming up on 343 World Trade Center illness deaths from just the fire department and I know the police department has a lot and just regular civilians who were there” Dewhurst said.

Organizers said more than 100 people participate in the annual event to raise money for various causes. Chris Cooper is a former Air Force Staff Sergeant and a regional leader with Mission 22. It’s a national non-profit that supports veterans and their families. He did the challenge to honor service people lost on the battlefield.

“Today, I’m kind of doing it special for the 13 we lost in Afghanistan a couple of years ago, particularly Rylee McCollum," Cooper said. "He was 20 years old. He had a baby on the way. His daughter will never get to meet her dad.”

The organizer of the Challenge Dakota event is Dusty Pence. She said this challenge, now in its 10th year, is one-of-a-kind.

"It is meaningful obviously for the reasons that 9/11 is to everybody, but the most important thing to me is watching all of these people who think they can’t do this come out and find out what they can do," Pence said. "I really do think we’re unique. In the country, there are stair climbs all over the country on 9/11 in towers. But I don’t think there’s anything like this. Yeah, I don't know with the rest of them if they put forth the joy that we put forth.”

Pence says an anonymous donor is giving a dollar for each full flight climbed this year. The money will be paid to repair other staircases in Hot Springs.

Krystal is the local host of "All Things Considered."