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Raising hope, a flight of stairs at a time

Dozens scale Tampa's Bank of America during a benefit for the American Lung Association.

By ALEXANDRA ZAYAS
Published December 4, 2005

TAMPA - Who in their right mind would wake up early on a chilly Saturday morning to hike up 41 stories of stairs inside one of downtown Tampa's tallest buildings?

Saturday morning, 120 people did. They bounded up the stairwell at the Bank of America Plaza in downtown Tampa, determined to trek to the top at the American Lung Association of Florida's inaugural stair climb event, a fundraiser for lung cancer research and awareness programs.

They signed up and pledged their $50 to contribute to a good cause, but once they were midway into the 980-step summit, it took a lot more than mere charity to motivate them.

For Clearwater resident Nichole Tenderholt, 25, it was her mother-in-law, Deeann. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in January - just two months after Tenderholt's wedding - and she died in March.

Deeann's name was written across the back of Tenderholt's tank top. A heart charm inscribed with a "D" was pinned over her heart.

"When she died, I said I'd do whatever I could to help, so nobody else would have to go through what I went through," Tenderholt said. "And that's why I have my shirt on."

And in her mind, she had a mantra that kept her going.

"I have to be able to do it for two people, because she can't be here and do it for herself," Tenderholt said. "When you see someone go through that, it just makes you realize that people go through a lot worse things, and you can find that extra bit of energy to take that extra step."

For Tyler Hoffman, 25, of Bradenton, it was the desire to win. The top three males and females in six age groups got trophies, along with the three fastest teams, largest team and highest fundraising team.

Hoffman bounced and bragged on the bottom floor of the building, spiky blonde hair pointed at the sky. He wore nothing but a teeny tiny pair of track shorts and his lucky triathlon shoes.

"It's the energy," he said, when asked how he could withstand the 51 degree chill. "It's like - I'm pumped up. I'm here to take first."

For firefighters from St. Petersburg and Tampa, it was the field experience. Firefighters routinely train on steps to prepare them for fires.

In fact, for the St. Petersburg Fire Rescue team, it was a 25-pound dress rehearsal. They climbed in their gear.

"We ran as a team. We try to put our youngest people up front. They're probably a little stronger. They led us all the way to the top," said Capt. Bernie Williams. "You kind of motivate each other up the stairs. Sometimes, if you don't have that motivation, it makes it a lot more difficult."

And for their Tampa counterparts, it was all in a day's work. Most of the 10 firefighters in the race train in the Bank of American Plaza every third day, to kick off their shift. In fact, they were on the clock Saturday morning.

"They don't come out and do it cold. If we did have an emergency here in this building, we'd have to come up with our full gear and air packs. Our gear with our air pack usually adds between 45 to 60 pounds extra to our weight," said Captain Russell Spicola. "It's very strenuous getting to the point we need to get to, so doing something like this is very important."

Members of the Tampa Police Department's narcotics division - the self-proclaimed TPD Warriors - didn't have that kind of training. It's not their style.

"This is the way that in an emergency situation, we're tasked to get to the top of the building. That's when we've got to dig deep inside and do it," said Sgt. E.J. Diaz. "Like a true warrior, they didn't train and prepare for situations. They just did what they had to do."

For the 13 officers, it was the spirit of camaraderie that got them to the top. One of their own was just diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease.

"We're dedicating this to him - a true warrior," Diaz said.

When the runners and walkers reached the 42nd floor, they were welcomed into the Tampa Club for pasta, pastries and bagels.

Anne Black, a spokeswoman for the American Lung Association of Florida, is already anticipating between 500 and 700 runners in next year's climb.

--Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 813 226-3354 or at azayas@sptimes.com

[Last modified December 4, 2005, 01:18:20]


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