Thousands of “Tunnel to Towers” runners — including members of the Armed Forces, New York’s Bravest and Finest, and their colleagues from around the world — followed in the footsteps Sunday of 9/11 first responders from 21 years prior.
The 5k run/walk was established in honor of Stephen Gerard Siller, a firefighter from Brooklyn’s Squad 1 who during the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks ran through the Brooklyn Battery (Hugh Carey) Tunnel, toward the danger while wearing 60 lbs. of gear. Unfortunately, Siller perished during his heroic efforts at the World Trade Center site.
In remembrance of this ultimate sacrifice, firefighters and police officers continue to retread that same ground while wearing their uniforms each year in what has become a worldwide event that, organizers say, saw some 30,000 people running from the Brooklyn side of the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel to West and Murray Streets, across from the World Trade Center.
“It’s very emotional,” Frank Siller, brother of Stephen Siller and founder of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, told amNewYork Metro. “I lost my youngest brother. He was a great hero. He’s inspired his siblings to be better people. But I miss my brother and albeit we are proud of the work we are doing in his honor and honor all those that perish but you never fully recover from it.”
The foundation works to provide financial support to first responders, including building homes and paying off mortgages for families of firefighters and officers who died in the line of duty.
Siller explained that his brother not only gave his life 21 years ago to save those trapped within the World Trade Center, through his memory the Tunnel to Towers Foundation is also helping give back to the men and women of the armed forces.
“It’s inspiring and it makes us want to work harder. And the reason why the Foundation is growing the way we’re growing is because of the work we’re doing. You know, building smart homes for our service members and paying off the mortgages for Goldstar families, widows, and fallen first responders’ widows that leave young children behind, give them mortgage free homes. That’s important,” Siller said.
During the run, some held the American flag high while others lugged framed photographs of their loved ones as they were spurred onward by spectators who lined the streets. At the finish line, runners celebrated with sweat on their brow and smiles on their faces, ecstatic that they had accomplished the feat.
Bernardsville, NJ firefighter Damian Juth told amNewYork Metro that he was inspired by Stephen Siller’s story and even though he admitted he struggled at points running while wearing his gear, he refused to give up.
“I’m more than honored to be part of the same organization, as those men were that day,” Juth said after crossing the finish line. “I ran, I was tired, and I wanted to give up in a number of places, but I just thought about that man who ran that whole race and how he wouldn’t have given up because the whole world depended on it, and how I owe it to him.”