On September 11, I joined Mr. PugRunner for the Tunnel to Towers 5K, in honor of Stephen Siller. This is a race he has wanted to do for several years, but we kept getting pushed back. Now was the time.
Tunnel 2 Towers began with the family of firefighter Stephen Siller. On September 11, 2001, Siller had finished his shift at his firehouse in Brooklyn and made the drive home. He planned to play golf with his brothers, who had raised him after the deaths of both their parents when he was eight. En route, he heard that the North Tower of the World Trade Center had been struck, and turned around to help. He got his gear from his firehouse, but his team was already on their way, so he started driving back into Manhattan. When he reached the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, he found it closed, effectively shutting off the city.
Siller, a dedicated husband, father, brother, firefighter, and hero, strapped on 60 lbs of gear and ran through the tunnel all the way to the Towers, where he ultimately lost his life in service to others that day.
Now, the Tunnel To Towers Foundation works tirelessly to help first responders and their families through their programs and initiatives. They provide mortgage-free, adaptable Smart Homes to catastrophically injured veterans and first responders, and mortgage-free homes to the surviving spouse and children of those who lost their lives in service to our country. Tunnel to Towers also aims to pay off the mortgages of fallen law enforcement officers and firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty, or to 9/11 related illness, and leave behind young children.
This is a small race, and it happens to take place about five miles away from our house. We did plan to arrive around seven, just to make sure we were able to get our packets and parking.
When we arrived, this beautiful tribute was waiting for us. It carries the faces, names, and departments of all the firefighters who were killed in the events of 9/11. Even all these years later, it’s hard to see, and even harder to fathom.
In reading the names, Mr PugRunner saw the face of one of the men at his old firehouse. They had lost touch through the years, and so he didn’t realize that he had passed on that day.
The volunteers were all so lovely, and we got our bibs and t-shirts.
The vibe was definitely somber, but also hopeful. The race was not scheduled to start until 8:46AM, the time Flight 11 struck the North Tower. Race organizers filled this time by have bananas, donuts, coffee, and water set out.
And bagpipers played the most beautiful music.
One of the race directors came forward to thank everyone for coming out. She shared the story of Stephen Siller and the Foundation, and then brought forward a local, disabled veteran, who was the recipient of one of the mortgage-free Smart Homes.
I’m not usually very emotional, but there was definitely something in my eye that morning.
The Guard presented the colors, and then we were directed to the start line.
We got in the middle of the participants. The 5K was self-seeded, but first responders in gear were asked to move to the front of the line (obviously). There were more than a few.
Volunteers handed out little badges with the names and faces of some of the fallen firefighters and first responders. Of course, we took one each. It was the least we could do to honor Scott Davidson and Richard Allen for their heroic sacrifice.
From there, we waited for 8:46. We took a start line photo and chatted with a woman who had lost both an ex-boyfriend and a friend. Over 20 years later, these losses and the magnitude of September 11 cut so very deep.
It was time to go. I offered to stay with Mr PugRunner – we were both feeling the heaviness of the day, but as an ex-firefighter and NY native, I knew it was weighing on him more. We are very familiar with the course (just and out-and-back in the World Golf Village area), so we just started moving.
He wasn’t feeling my intervals, so we agreed to run when he wanted and walk when he wanted. No rush. It was too hot to push (not that I’m complaining at all).
We certainly didn’t pass many people on the course, but we did catch up to these two men.
The one on the right had a teal ribbon and a photo of Tristyn Bailey on his oxygen tank. Tristyn was a local 13-year-old who was brutally murdered by a classmate in May of 2021. It was a huge blow to our community, but her memory is still being honored in so many ways.
After 3.1 miles, we ran across the finish line. There were no medals (I’d rathe the money go to the Foundation than to bling in this case), but there was water and Mission BBQ handing out pulled pork sliders.
At this point, we were hungry and grateful for something so delicious.
And then it was time to go.
Have you run or walked in honor of September 11?
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