More than 30,000 runners and walkers converged on the Red Hook section of Brooklyn on Sunday, lining up near the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. At 9:30 a.m. they were off, hurrying through the tunnel and then the side streets and quiet park walkways of Lower Manhattan in the 11th annual Tunnel to Towers Run, which has become one of New York City’s biggest races.
The run is held each year in memory of Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter and one-time Rockville Centre resident who died trying to save others at the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. That day, Siller drove from Squad Company No. 1 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, to the tunnel, which was so crowded with cars and people that it was virtually impassable.
Siller leapt from his vehicle and ran in his protective gear through the tunnel, along the catwalk, carrying 60 pounds of equipment. Once in Manhattan, other rescue workers picked him up and took him to the World Trade Center, where he died directing victims of the attacks out of the towers.
The Siller family, including Stephen’s brother, Russell, a college professor from Rockville Centre, created the Tunnel to Towers Run to memorialize Stephen’s courage in the line of duty and to bring a degree of hope out of tragedy. “It’s the way we were raised,” Russell said in an earlier interview. “We wanted to turn something horrendous [into] something positive.”
The event has raised $10 million for charity over the years, and now its organizers work with the Gary Sinise Foundation to build technologically advanced homes for triple- and quadruple-amputees who have returned home from war in Afghanistan and Iraq. A number of wounded veterans took part in Sunday’s race, making their way from Brooklyn to Manhattan in wheelchairs, some able to power themselves, others pushed by teams of volunteers. Some even walked the length of the course on crutches, moving slowly but steadily. All were met by rousing cheers and standing ovations.