‘They Never Got to Go Down’

People walk up stairs football stadium
In memory of 9/11 first responders: Walking up 110 flights of stairs, the same height as the twin towers. (Dave Jones/UC Davis)

Quick Summary

  • Inaugural event honors 9/11’s fallen first responders
  • 200 participants tackle 110 flights of stairs in stadium
  • Police Department envisions stair climb as annual event

Under a gray sky early Sunday, nearly 200 people participated in UC Davis’ inaugural 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, paying tribute to the first responders and others who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks 21 years earlier.

The event at UC Davis Health Stadium drew people whose ages meant they had their own memories of the horrors of 9/11, and others who had not been born. They all came to walk up 110 flights of stairs, which was the challenge for firefighters and other rescuers that day in the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, after terrorists crashed their hijacked jets into the skyscrapers.

Firefighters in turnouts stand at attention for flag raising, under stadium scoreboard showing the Stars and Stripes
Student firefighters await the raising of the flag before the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb at UC Davis Health Stadium.

First responders on campus have organized 9/11 stair climbs for themselves, but no such event had ever been held for the community. Police officer Tabbasum “Tabby” Malik, with help from his department, set out to change that. Student Housing and Dining Services co-sponsored the event.

“No matter who you are, we can all come together to remember 9/11,” Malik said, likening this unity to what played out in the days, weeks, months and years after 9/11. “You didn’t have to be a first responder to help our country recover.”

In our national time of need, everyone pitched in, everyone had it within their power to help, he said. “And I can see the same thing in an event like this.”

3 firefighters conduct flag raising
Raising the flag, from left: Fire Capt. Kyle Dubs, engineer Ryan Tooley and firefighter Gerrit Dykzeul.


Participants included staff members and children; people from the community; first responders from other fire departments and law enforcement agencies; and military personnel, including an Army reservist who walked the 110 flights while wearing his rucksack weighing 40 to 50 pounds. “I wanted to do my part,” said David Denzer, from the B.T. Collins Army Reserve Center in Sacramento.

The stadium gates opened at 7 a.m., and as people walked in they saw a giant version of the Stars and Stripes, digitally rendered, waving in the virtual breeze of the stadium scoreboard. Soon, three campus firefighters raised a real U.S. flag, first to full staff in accordance with flag protocol, then lowering it to half-staff.

Police officer Fiona Wais, in uniform, sings national anthem, holding microphone, standing next to police SUV
Officer Fiona Wais of the Davis Police Department sings the national anthem. (Pheng Ly/Davis Police Department)

UC Davis Police Chief Joe Farrow gave opening remarks, then turned the program over to officer Malik, who outlined the stair-climb procedures: Start on the concourse above the bleachers, go down an aisle and back up, then move to the next aisle, and so on and so, five times around the stadium. Water, bananas and granola bars awaited the participants at several points around the concourse.

Boy and mom in ?9/11 Memorial Stair Climb" T-shirts after completing 110 flights of stairs
Theron Schick and his mother, Emily Schick, in their commemorative T-shirts, after the stair climb.

“It was hard,” said 12-year-old Theron Schick, who learned viscerally about something he had previously only read about. He participated in the stair climb with his mother, Emily Schick, who works in the Stable Isotope Facility in the Department of Plant Sciences.

“I thought it was nice to remember all that was lost, to show our support,” Theron said. His mother agreed, adding her praise for the campus’s first responders.

Student firefighters in turnouts walk up stairs
Student firefighters climb another flight.

Nine student firefighters participated as a unit, wearing turnout gear of helmet, coat, pants and boots, weighing more than 25 pounds.

Kai Watanabe in UC Davis fire helmet, headshot
Kai Watanabe

“Honestly, it was a privilege,” said Kai Watanabe, a fourth-year student majoring in neurobiology, physiology and behavior, who is among the newest student firefighters. “One thing I really think about, in the moment, when we get tired climbing the stairs ... the first responders of 9/11 never got to go down.”

Malik expressed his appreciation to all who participated and added that he was excited for the future, in making the stair climb an annual event. “The goal here is to remember our first responders, and, by doing so, we can also remember how we came together as a nation.”

A portion of the stair climb registration fees are being donated, along with other contributions, to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.



Media Resources

Dateline Staff: Dave Jones, editor, 530-752-6556, dateline@ucdavis.edu; Cody Kitaura, News and Media Relations specialist, 530-752-1932, kitaura@ucdavis.edu.

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