I awoke at 3:45 a.m. on Sept. 30, and by 4:35 I was on a train speeding from Merrick to Penn Station. At 6 a.m., I stood at Liberty and West streets in Lower Manhattan, near 1 World Trade Center, the glass-and-steel superstructure that is now under construction near the footprints of the Twin Towers.
With its white lights illuminating the dark, foggy sky, 1WTC towered above the city like a beacon. I snapped a photo of the skyscraper and stood silently, marveling at this miracle of modern architecture and human perseverance. It took my breath away.
Then I was on a shuttle bus to Red Hook, Brooklyn, surrounded by runners chatting at a frenetic pace, excited to take part in the 11th annual Tunnel to Towers Run.
The race/walk pays homage to former Rockville Centre resident Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter who died in the World Trade Center trying to save others on Sept. 11, 2001. On that terrible day, Siller, a 34-year-old father of five, drove his Jeep from his firehouse in Park Slope, Brooklyn, to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, only to find it blocked by traffic. Siller leapt from his vehicle and ran through the tunnel, carrying 60 pounds of equipment. Rescue workers picked him up on the Manhattan side and drove him to the Twin Towers. He went in but never came out.
His family, including brother Russell Siller of Rockville Centre, started the Tunnel to Towers Run as a charitable fundraiser. The Sillers wanted to replace the evil perpetrated by 19 Al Qaeda terrorists with the kindness of thousands of good people.
This year’s run attracted 30,000 participants and raised more than $1 million to build technologically advanced homes that allow triple- and quadruple-amputees returning from war in Afghanistan and Iraq to live in dignity. The homes are equipped with wheelchair ramps and wide doors. Kitchen cabinets drop down to wheelchair level with the touch of a button. Elevators allow access to more than one floor.
I did the Tunnel to Towers Run because, in my own small way, I wanted to help our wounded veterans, and to say thank you to the first responders who gave so freely of themselves on 9/11 and thereafter.