ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Over 100 athletes in full firefighter gear took part in the 343 Hero Challenge, hosted by Orange County Fire Rescue for the seven year in a row.
The event Saturday morning beginning with an emotional ceremony to honor the 343 firefighters and policemen and women who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 attacks 18 years ago.
The event is a judged, athletic competition featuring a "cross-functional style workout, combined with firefighting tasks that simulate activities the fallen firefighters may have experienced," according to organizers.
"I had someone yelling at me, 'You only have a minute left,'" said competitor Matt Maher. "And you think, those firefighters running up those stairs, they didn't know how much time they had left. They didn't know the towers were going to come down."
This year, for the first time, the event named a child as its Honor Athlete. Daniel "DJ" Roberts, 12, lost part of his right leg to cancer when he was 9 years old. He inspired people across Central Florida and around the world when he ran in Disney's "Star Wars" Rival Run 5K with his physical therapist, Trevor Hicks.
"He inspires me every day," Hicks said of DJ.
On Saturday, DJ encouraged Hicks, who was competing.
"I had all the power," DJ said, laughing. "Trevor motivated me through the 5K. Now I get to inspire him through this challenge."
DJ said he wants to encourage anyone else who is going through hard times.
"Just never give up, because it gets a heck of a lot easier," he said.
The 343 Hero Challenge benefits Orange County's 2019 United Way Campaign and the Florida Firefighter Cancer Support Network. To date, the competition has raised more than $58,000 for charitable causes. It is organized by Orange County firefighters.
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