When the going gets tough for Northland firefighter Paul Austin as he climbs the Auckland Sky Tower today he will think of 4-year-old Florence London's bravery for motivation.
The small girl with a big smile was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in February and since then has undergone some intensive treatment and become a regular at Starship Hospital.
Austin and his first response team from Marsden 22 are doing the climb for Florence and the team will have her photo attached to their cylinders.
For months Austin, a senior operator at Refining NZ, has been pounding the steps of Mt Parihaka in Whangārei in preparation for the big climb today.
But it was just yesterday he was scheduled to meet Florence and her family, who are from Hamilton.
This is the seventh climb up the Sky Tower for Austin but it's the one that means the most.
He gets emotional speaking about the significance of climbing for Florence.
"Doing it for her changes things ... it gives me a motivational reason rather then being solely about the fundraising it's about supporting someone going through a tough time."
As part of his training regime Austin, who is also a volunteer with the Kamo brigade, completed the Wild Kiwi 15km race in full kit. When the going got tough climbing Mount Lion he thought of Florence's bravery.
"She definitely motivated me to get to the top."
The 43-year-old will compete in the Firefighter of Steel division which will see those competitors do an extra 180 stairs to reach the 60th floor. He will also start in the top 25 climbers which was decided on last years results.
Most of the firefighters competing in the 15th anniversary of the Firefighter Sky Tower Stair Challenge - a fundraising event to support Leukaemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand - will climb 1103 stairs to reach the 51st floor.
Climbing Parihaka four or five times in one go and doing back to back trips up Mt Manaia should set him up for a great climb.
In fact it was during a training session on Parihaka he came across Whangārei woman Kathy Bennett who was climbing the mountain 37 times in one month to raise money for Sir Edmund Hillary's Himalayan Trust.
After a brief conversation Bennett said she knew of a young girl in Hamilton who had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and it was then Austin decided to dedicate the Sky Tower climb to Florence.
Since then there have been phone calls and photos exchanged through messages between Austin and Florence's mum Siobhan Trim.
Yesterday they all met for the first time in Auckland and Florence hoped to see Austin start his climb this morning.
"Florence is three months into her treatment and halfway through all the rubbish stuff which isn't that nice," Trim said.
"This will be a real boost for her. She has been talking about wanting to be a firefighter."
Trim said they were grateful to Austin and his Marsden 22 team of Jono Hoori, Andy Hughes and Russell Gavin. Other members of the team but climbing under another team name are Glenn Orford, with Maungaturoto, and Ingo Junge, of Onerahi.
The actual challenge starts when registrations open, this year the event sold out in 32 minutes with 200 on the waiting list.
Firefighter Sky Tower Stair Challenge started from humble beginnings. In the early days, 88 firefighters fundraised $17,500. This year it's 1000 firefighters and today they conquered the one million dollar fundraising target. Participants in 2019 include 38 international firefighters from the US, Croatia, Cook Islands and Australia. The youngest firefighter competing is aged 16, and the oldest is 77.
Northland brigades participating in the Firefighters Sky Tower Stair Challenge are:
Ahipara, Dargaville, Kaikohe, Kaikohe Rural Fire Force, Kaiwaka 781, Kamo, Kerikeri, Mangawhai, Marsden 22, Ngunguru, Onerahi, Paihia and Ruakaka.
If you would like to donate to this worthy cause or support your local brigade, please go to https://firefightersclimb.org.nz/
51 flights of stairs
1103 individual steps At 328 metres the Sky Tower is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere
1000 firefighters competing in this year's challenge from 187 brigades.
Firefighters will wear up to 25kgs of kit.
38 international firefighters registered this year, coming from Australia (26), USA (4), Croatia (1) and the Cook Islands (8)
Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand (LBC) is the national charity dedicated to supporting patients and their families living with blood cancers and related blood conditions The organisation receives no government funding.