BOISE - After several fundraisers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the annual Scott Firefighter Stairclimb competition in Seattle is almost here.
69 flights of stairs, 1,356 steps, all while wearing 50 pounds of gear to reach the top of the Columbia Center in downtown Seattle.
"The energy is intense," said Kyle Rajsich with the Boise Fire Department. "You can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The gear, it's an encapsulating heat suit and there's no way for your body to breathe or cool off."
Rajsich has a decade of climbing under his belt, and the steps at Zions Bank in downtown Boise are his training grounds.
"The longer you stay in it, the deeper the roots go," Rajsich said. So he suits up with a purpose.
"How blessed and privileged am I to let my legs and my lungs hurt that bad to just, in some small way, take a fraction of their pain away," said Rajsich.
It's a pain that he knows all to well. In 2008 his younger sister, Audra, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a diagnosis that would return four years later in 2012.
"I very distinctly remember sitting next to the hospital bed with my sister during chemo treatments," Rajsich said. "Feeling a degree of hopelessness, of fearfulness, all of those things and questions. Your whole world just gets turned upside down."
For Rajsich and several others training to climb, there are faces and names they think about. One is the face of Mighty Max, the 8-year-old son of a Boise firefighter.
"To me it's Max and it's Audra," Rajsich said.
Max Jones was diagnosed with T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in December.
"Seeing him in the hospital and seeing how strong he is and knowing that no matter how many muscles ache, how hard it is to breathe, how thirsty I am, nothing compares to what's actually going on in the big scheme of things," said Dana Bergstrom, a first-time climber.
With every step, Rajsich says they're honoring survivors, fighters and those they've lost.
"I want to leave it all in the stairwell,' Rajsich said. "I want to offer everything that I have."
They pay tribute with pictures on their helmets and on their gear.
"You never know how many people out there truly cared about you," said Rajsich.
With every call, every fire, every step in Seattle or in Boise, Audra is always nearby because Rajsich keeps letters written by Audra in his helmet.
He says it's a reminder of the fight, the reason for the climb, and the light waiting at the end of the tunnel.
Early on in treatment, doctors told Audra she would not be able to have children. Not only is she now in remission, but she also welcomed a baby girl named Grace, two months ago.
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