When he’s running in the dead of night across the vast empty deserts of the United States south and midwest, a former Red Deer minor hockey product who played in the NHL remembers the ultimate sacrifice made by more than 400 fellow first responders in New York nine years ago.
Darcy Loewen, 40, is now a firefighter in Las Vegas and on a team of American and Australian firefighters are running from coast to coast and plan to end up in New York on Sept. 11 to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States.
A former player with the Red Deer Midget Optimist Chiefs and a product of the minor hockey programs in Sylvan Lake and Red Deer, Loewen and his fellow runners spent Saturday and Sunday running and viewing the site of another terror attack on the federal building in Oklahoma City, Okla.
The Tour of Duty run will see the firefighters running about 7,000 km.
“You can run as much as you want but I try to stay around 10 kilometres a day,” he said.
Loewen, who has been a North Las Vegas fireman for about four years, said each runner takes a 10 km stint each day.
Their journey started Aug. 12 in Los Angeles and winds through the heartland of America heading south to New Orleans then north to New York.
Loewen said the experience has been exceptional.
“Everywhere on the route there’s all kinds of people cheering us on, especially in the larger centres,” he said just several kilometres outside of Oklahoma City Saturday afternoon.
“Every mile we make the enthusiasm seems to be snowballing from the people who come out and cars which pass us on the route.
“When you’re on the midnight to 6 a.m. run jogging down that lonesome highway in the desert or somewhere in the midwest you can’t help but think of the sacrifice those men and women made but also about all the first responders who have died in the line of duty trying to protect the public.”
He said the runners pause at 8:46 a.m. each morning to honour the 400 firefighters, paramedics, policemen and port authority officers who died in New York.
“We read out a list of 20 names each morning and by Sept. 11 will have read out the names of all 411 emergency workers who died on that day,” Loewen said.
He said on Sept. 11 everyone should approach a first responder and thank them for just being there to protect them.
“Just say thank you for keeping my community safe.”
He said the ceremony in New York will certainly be an emotional event.
“We’re all pretty aware why we’re doing this. Everything we’ve done so far has been pretty emotional,” he said.
Born in Calgary, Loewen learned to survive physical wars while playing junior hockey with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League for four years.
He may have enjoyed his finest years as a professional hockey player in his post-NHL days.
The 55th pick overall by Buffalo in the 1988 NHL draft, Loewen played 135 NHL games including 79 with Ottawa in the 1992-93 season.
He scored a total of four goals and eight assists in the NHL but was known as a tireless skater and feisty checker the type of player every team needs to be successful.
Loewen played four seasons with Las Vegas of the International Hockey League where he met his wife Julie.
He said a few former Las Vegas teammates got involved with the fire department so he applied and was accepted.
“Being a fireman is just like playing on a hockey team.
“They are part of your family since you live, work and eat with them for many hours a day.
“As a firefighter, you have to function as part of a team and depend on one another to get the job done.”
He said he’s been running all his life because he had to as a kid desperately wanting to be a professional player.
“I’d run all the off-season because your legs are your meal ticket. If you can’t skate there’s little hope of going very far in the sport.”