Raglan mother of two and volunteer firefighter Leanna Darby reckons it’s “a bit of madness” mixed with a competitive spirit that motivates her every Monday and Friday to complete an early-morning run up and down the 260-odd steps of the Bridal Veil Falls – four, sometimes five, times over.

And that kitted out in gear which includes carrying on her back the hefty steel breathing apparatus sets filled with air, so familiar to firefighters the world over.
No new carbon fibre ones for the Raglan crew as yet, she rues, to lighten the load.

Leanna’s both training and “madly fundraising”, along with three fireman colleagues from Raglan’s volunteer brigade, in preparation for Auckland’s 10th annual Firefighter Sky Tower Step Challenge, which is now less than a month away.

The small team’s been training three months already, and for Leanna that means getting up at 4.50am to feed her six-month-old before tackling the falls just beyond Te Mata between 5.30 and 7.30 both weekdays.

But she’s unfazed. It’s a great opportunity to re-claim her pre-baby fitness, she explains. “I enjoy a challenge.”

And it’s a really fun event for kids to see, Leanna adds. She and hubby Dan Mills – also a local firefighter – have a three-year-old as well as a baby and “they can wait at the top and watch us come through”.

Leanna took on the Firefighter Challenge for the first time a couple of years ago, while for Raglan’s Stephen O’Byrne and John Oetzel it’s also second time round after completing the 2013 event in which 550 firefighters from New Zealand and overseas raced up the 1103 steps or 51 flights.

All contenders battled their way to the top of the iconic Sky Tower in full firefighter gear weighing up to 25 kilos, raising more than $480,000 for Leukemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand (LBC).

This year’s event will be a first for local tradie Brett Soanes who confessed he didn’t know much about it but, like his fellow firefighters, was happy to put time into training and energy into fundraising for a good cause which supports thousands of patients and their families living with blood-related conditions.

The 2014 event happens on Saturday May 17 with 700 firefighters taking on the challenge. People can donate online with direct links to the names of competitors.

E Symes