Each part of the grueling physical challenge represented lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001.
A group of 22 first responders, veterans and surfers partook in Operation Open Water’s first “honor challenge” on Friday, a tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks on that fateful day, just one of the many remembrances held throughout the county – and across the country.
“It was a challenge,” said Operation Open Water co-founder Kyle Kelly, an Army veteran who traveled from Central California to help put on the event. “But it’s supposed to be, right?”
Run 2,600 yards from Huntington Beach’s City Hall to its famed pier representing the nearly same number of civilians inside the World Trade Center who died in the 9/11 attacks.
Drag a fire hose 343 yards representing the number of firefighters who died.
Climb 110 flights of stairs near the lifeguard headquarters representing the flights in the World Trade Center.
Do 60 burpees to remember the number of fallen police officers.
Operation Open Water was created in 2019 to honor first responders and military; it is led by local surfer Danny Nichols and Kelly, who lost one of his legs while serving in the Army in Iraq.
Like countless people throughout the world, Kelly said he will never forget where he was when the attacks happened nearly two decades ago: a high school student sitting in the library in a small Texas town.
“It was a very blue collar community, patriotism was in our veins. We all took it very seriously,” he said. “Clearly there was uncertainty… no one knew what was next.”
He joined the military not long after, because he said he knew he had to be “part of something bigger than me.”
Once out of the military, Kelly said he found a passion – and healing – in surfing, which lead him to help in creating Operation Open Water.
“What I learned from it was that it is something that is so much more powerful than us and we have to surrender to it,” he said of the ocean. “You have to adapt to what nature throws at you and continue to roll.”
Part of what makes the group special are the relationships formed, he said, a bond between the first responders, veterans and surfers who have come together to support one another through the years.
“We were all suffering together. It was a positive form of trauma bonding,” he said. “That’s uplifting, that’s something you have together. When you have those experiences, you are not alone and you can get through anything together.”
Friday morning started out with an emotional tribute at Huntington Beach City Hall before the Operation Open Water group embarked on their challenge.
One of the big take-aways for Nichols was the sense of camaraderie, he said, how they were there for one another throughout the physically painful journey.
“It’s very emotional,” he said. “I know a lot of these guys’ stories and what they’ve endured and how hard they’ve worked over the years to get this peace of mind and transition back into normal life.”
With how polarized the country is at the moment, it’s more important than ever to remember 9/11 and what the country stands for, he said.
“We want 9/11 to be a community event everyone can participate in,” he said. “It changed everyone’s life.”
Source: Orange County Register