Triathlon’s Tribute to Heroes

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Washington D.C. firefighters Dennis Carmody (left, with American flag) and Daniel Gerdy talk with the crowd and pose for photos after swimming a half-mile in the ocean, biking 12 miles and then running three miles in full turnout gear at the Pacific Coast Triathlon on Sunday. — Photos by Jim Collins

At 5:46 a.m. Sunday morning about 1500 people paused from their preparations for the 14th Annual Pacific Coast Triathlon in Newport Beach for a moment of silence and reflection in honor of the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.

Dawn breaks as athletes and spectators get ready for the 14th Annual Pacific Coast Triathlon.

The time was significant because it was 8:46 a.m. in New York City, the exact time the first plane hit the north tower 10 years ago.

Over 600 athletes participated in the event, including a special heroes division of police, firefighters and military competitors.

“Some people there to compete against their own personal time, some people were there to compete against others,“ said Dennis Carmody, a firefighter from Washington D.C. who was flown in for the event, “but everybody was there to remember.”

The heroes division was the focal point of the race, said race director Bill Leach, specifically the two firefighters from D.C., Carmody and Daniel Gerdy.

Leach, and co-race director Bob Cuyler, were in charge of organizing the event and invited the two special guests to the race. Carmody had participated in the event in 2004 and was more than happy to return as a D.C. representative and to honor his fallen firefighting brothers from 9/11, he said.

Washington D.C. firefighters Dennis Carmody (left, with American flag) and Daniel Gerdy finish the race in full turnout gear as the crowd cheers them on.

“[9/11 is] a day to reflect, to look in the mirror and ask [yourself], ‘Are you ready to pay the ultimate price if you‘re called?’” he said.

Carmody and Gerdy swam a half-mile in the ocean, bicycled 12 miles and then put on full firefighting turnout gear, which weighs about 40 pounds, before running three miles to the finish line.

“It was spectacular,” Carmody said. “It truly was unbelievable.”

Everyone was very supportive, he said. Even other athletes, who were racing as hard and fast as they could to finish, would stop and pat them on the back or high-five them, Carmody said.

People really appreciated Carmody and Gerdy, Leach agreed. People were applauding, high-fiving them, and cheering them on, he said.

“It was very emotional and very perfect,” Leach said. “And they were just gentlemen, just wonderful guys… It was a great experience all the way around.”

The weather was wonderful, there was a great turnout, about 1500 total, and the event and special ceremony did a brilliant job exemplifying the significance of 9/11, Leach added.

Competitors race up the hill after finishing the half-mile swim during the triathlon.

A local girl, Emma Delaney, sang the national anthem, Leach said. There was also a special tribute on stage, a flag ceremony and a prayer along with the moment of silence, he added. The keynote speaker was Corona del Mar native Melissa Johnson, M.S., principal of MJX Global Health Works, LLC. Johnson is a leader in health, physical activity and fitness promotion with over 20 years of experience in the health and wellness industry.

The race was possible because of the sponsors and all the volunteers, Leach said. The Corona del Mar High School water polo team and the Newport Harbor High School volleyball team both helped out at the event. Boy Scouts Troupe 90 also volunteered.

“They all did a wonderful job,” Leach said. “It wouldn’t have been possible without all the volunteers.”

The race had a lot of great sponsors as well, Leach said, including local restaurant El Ranchito, which gave out gift certificates to the participating kids and all the heroes.

The race is part of the Orange County Triathlon Series, put on by Pelican Coast Events, LLC.

“In our opinion, it was the best race we could have [possibly] put on,” Leach said.

Athletes from the race look up their times after finishing the 14th Annual Pacific Coast Triathlon on Sunday.

It was a great way to remember 9/11 and honor those who died that day, he added.

Carmody is inspired by the tale of Steven Sillers, who just gotten off work from Squad 1 in New York City on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. When he heard about the first plane hitting the North tower, he turned his truck around to go back and help. He was stopped at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and wasn’t allowed to drive any further.

“He grabbed his gear, threw it over his shoulder and ran to the tower,” Carmody said.

Sillers ran over three miles to the World Trade Center. He was last seen putting on his gear and running in trying to find his crew.

Carmody and Gerdy try to participate, along with many of their fellow firefighters from their station in D.C., in the annual Steven Sillers Tunnel to Towers 5k Run/Walk.

“As a 19 year-old on September 11th, I was inspired by the dedication, sacrifice, and brotherhood of the firefighters, which led me to dedicate myself to the DCFD,” Gerdy wrote in an email.

Carmody has “343” tattooed on his back in honor of the 343 firefighters that died that day.

“So I remember [them] every day,” he said.

During the running portion of the race, Carmody and Gerdy not only wore full turnout gear, they also carried an American flag and a red flag honoring fallen firefighters.

“We’re not thinking about the race, we’re thinking about what happened 10 years ago,” Carmody said. “We wanted to be just two faceless firemen representing all firefighters and honoring those who died that day.”

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Race winners, special guests and other athletes pose for photos as keynote speaker, Melissa Johnson, speaks to the crowd.
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