ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County firefighters and athletes will take part in the sixth annual 343 Hero Challenge next month, named after the 343 firefighters who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.
"We are just trying to remember them by remembering what they lost and what they went through," Orange County firefighter Doss Bozeman said.
Bozeman also coordinates the exercise stations at the three-event competition.
Participants will gear up with oxygen tanks, fire hoses and sandbags and step up on boxes for three minutes and 43 seconds, representing the 110 floors the first responders had to climb inside the World Trade Center. Another team will also be tasked with carrying a stretcher loaded up with more weight, symbolizing the thousands of victims who were saved.
Bozeman said it's more than just a physical challenge, it's emotionally challenging, too.
"In our first event, we usually hang pictures from 9/11," he said, with tears welling up in his eyes. "When you are sitting there and you are doing the 3:43 minutes of step-ups, you actually can envision walking down the streets of New York and making your way to those towers. It's emotional."
Not only is it emotional, though. He said it's essential in remembering the lives lost not just on that day 17 years ago but every day since.
It's why LeeAnn Yanni gladly accepted to be this year's honor athlete. She's a physical therapist in Central Florida and also a Boston Marathon bombing survivor.
"I had a couple of my patients that were running; we were about to go meet up with her when the first explosion happened," Yanni said. "I felt something warm brush my leg, and I looked down and my bone was sticking out. Blood was kind of gushing everywhere."
Yanni said it was an Army medic turned Boston firefighter who used a shoe measure and a hanger to save her leg.
"If it wasn't for those men and women that were there, I could have easily lost my leg that day," she said.
Now she's using drawing strength from her scars to take on the 343 Hero Challenge next month.
"To just feel a piece of it," Yanni said. "These guys and girls have to do it for hours on end in different situations, so just to do a piece of it, I think, will let me gain even more respect for what they do."
She will be part of 120 athletes taking part in the 343 Hero Challenge on Sept. 8. All proceeds will go to the Florida Firefighters Cancer Support Network.
Bozeman said there are about 20 spots open for the 343 Hero Challenge. Anyone interested in signing up can learn more here.