Michael Weinstock is running. Aside from running his campaign to represent New York’s Third Congressional District, he has been hitting the gym to work on his cardio for a very important visit to New Zealand this week.
“I’m surprised I haven’t gotten a lot of questionable looks at the gym,” Weinstock said. “Not even for the firefighter equipment I have on, but for the heavy amount of sweating to go along with it.”
The 9/11 responder from Great Neck has been gearing up for the trip, as he joins forces with New York firefighters and their New Zealand counterparts to climb the Auckland Sky Tower. Organized by the United States Embassy for the past several years, the event is a way to honor those whose lives were taken on Sept. 11.
“I’ve actually been to New Zealand before,” Weinstock recalled. “But I’ve never done the climb up. I’m excited to be a part of this. It definitely takes the mind off all the negative memories and gives me something healthy to focus on.”
Weinstock’s connection with New Zealand stems from the events that unfolded on Sept. 11. As he was attending to civilians in need of immediate medical assistance, a married couple came up and without hesitation, started helping him.
“When I flew back out to reconnect with them, it was a surreal feeling,” Weinstock recalled. “It was odd to think I was here, surrounded by new friends, eating dinner in a foreign country, all in part to what unfolded that day.”
Now 18 years since one of the most infamous days in United States’ history, Weinstock will be a part of over 160 firefighters past and present who will climb the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere.
Each firefighter will enter the building with a tag of an individual rescue worker, dedicating the climb in that person’s memory. Though the tags are randomly assigned, Weinstock has someone in mind who he’d be honored to get.
“This day is never easy for me,” said Weinstock in regards to Sept. 11. “Aside from the massive tragedies that struck the entire nation, losing your best friend in the midst of it all hurts a lot.”
His long-time friend, Jonathan Ielpi, was among the nearly 3,000 whose lives were taken from them on 9/11. Ielpi’s memory is lived on through his memorial at Firefighters Park in Great Neck, but Weinstock has his own ways to remember his “best buddy.”
“I love talking about him to people who didn’t get the chance to meet him,” Weinstock said. “The guy was an absolute ham. A total riot. And his storytelling would captivate any room at any given time. There’s no better way to honor him in my mind. He would love that I’m doing this.”
The collective group of New York and New Zealand firefighters will be ascending Sky Tower on Sept. 10. The climb will begin after a reading of the names of all 343 New York firefighters whose lives were lost 18 years ago.