A public safety officer at McGhee Tyson Airport never dreamed his solitary, early-morning tribute on the anniversary of a national tragedy would gain so much attention.
Jason Harding’s unique way to observe the 15 anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks went viral on social media and caught the attention of national news outlets, from People magazine to Fox News.
Harding, who completed Roane State Community College’s paramedic program in September 2011, is a certified police officer, paramedic, and firefighter for the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority.
He went into Maryville’s Planet Fitness at 6 a.m. September 11, wearing 75 pounds of firefighting gear, and asked permission to use one of the gym’s stair climbing machines.
While he climbed 15,000 stepsâ€”the equivalent of the 110 stories of one of the two World Trade Center towers toppled in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacksâ€”an amazed Planet Fitness employee, Lezlie Bauler, snapped his photo.
“I am not one to get emotional, but a few tears were shed,” Bauler wrote under the photo, which she posted on her Facebook page.
The post took off, quickly receiving nearly 200,000 shares, and Harding said he began getting phone calls from friends and relatives across the country. Local news outlets picked up the story, along with national news services.
“I didn’t do this to gain self-recognition,” said Harding, who was at first unaware that his solitary tribute to the 343 firefighters killed in the terrorist attacks had gone viral. “I was absolutely amazed at the response.”
“I think it gained attention for all the right reasons,” he said. Harding said the reaction was likely a positive response countering “a lot of negativity and so many protests” that have swept the country.
For the past four years, Harding has joined other firefighters in a September 11 commemoration in Nashville by climbing one of the city’s skyscrapers several times to reach the height of the World Trade Center.
Next September 11, he says he’d like to replicate the tribute in New York City.
Harding said he received an “amazing” education from Roane State paramedic teachers Marty Young and Mark Bodine.
“They are some of the best instructors I’ve had in my educational career,” he said.
For more information on Roane State, visit roanestate.edu or call (866) GO2-RSCC (1-866-462-7722).
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