10-Year Champions: Andrew and Willem

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When Turner Valley firefighters Andrew Draper and Willem Gersjes signed up for their first Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge in 2015, neither thought they were teeing up for a decade-long commitment; yet here they are, now at different stations, both getting ready to tackle the climb for the 10th year in a row.

Andrew Draper

“I’ve always been a challenge-driven person, so it was the challenge that drew me in and has kept me going all these years,” said Andrew. “I like the event, and it’s a happy coincidence that I get to raise money for a great organization at the same time.”

Unlike most participants, Andrew, in his 30s, takes a unique approach to getting ready for the event.

“I used to train hard for it, but I have changed my perspective in recent years. I now challenge myself to do it ‘as I stand.’ I tell myself that if I can do it coming off the street, that means I’m in good enough shape to keep doing my job,” said Andrew.

Willem, now a resident of Comox and a ‘paid on call’ firefighter working both in BC and Alberta, takes a slightly different approach to the event… one that involves combining stair training with ocean scented air and hopeful sightings of marine life.

Willem Gersjes

“I turned 60 this year and I definitely need to train if I’m going to survive and make it to the top,” he said laughing. Willem adds that since there are no high rises in Comox, his main indoor training option is the tower in the Comox Fire Station, but his favourite routine is to put on his weighted vest and run the 300 stairs that are oceanside in his beautiful community.

“Turner Valley was a great place to live for 20 years or so, but we were ready for a change; somewhere you don’t have to shovel snow in May and closer to our youngest daughter and two grandbabies,” said Willem.

Both participants say they are grateful to report that they have not experienced cancer in their inner circles, but are aware of others who have, and are glad to know their efforts are helping to sustain a vital avenue of support. 

“I know that Wellspring supports families that are dealing with a cancer situation and I think that’s brilliant. We sometimes forget that it’s not just the patient who suffers with cancer, it’s the whole family that has to fight it together, so everyone can use the support, that’s for sure,” said Willem.