NEW YORK (CBS 2) – For the ninth year, the Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers Run saw a successful turnout. What started in 2002 with 2,500 runners has grown to around 20,000 runners in 2010.
Tens of thousands followed in Stephen’s footsteps on Sunday. Every branch of the military was participating and hundreds of other fire fighters ran the five kilometers in full bunker gear, to emulate Stephen’s determination and strength. And, as in years past, there was also a contingent of wounded warriors.
The race’s course was approximately five kilometers or 3.1 miles. The starting line was in Brooklyn just outside of the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. From there, participants went through the Tunnel. When they emerged on the Manhattan side they headed north onto West Street and made a left onto Liberty Street to the Battery Park Esplanade.
They made their way along the river and then turned right onto Warren Street, where they came out of Battery Park City and crossed the finish line back on West Street just steps from Ground Zero.
As those around him where overcome and in need of help, firefighter Stephen Siller was clear in vision and purpose. His training guided his response on that tragic day, and while others fled the burning towers, he rushed to the site as fast as he could.
Siller was a hero on 9/11, and Sunday thousands honor his selfless act and that of the other 342 fire fighters who gave their all.
September 11, 2001, having just finished an overnight shift at Brooklyn’s Squad 1, Stephen had a tee time with his three brothers planned, until he heard the news of the World Trade Center attack on his scanner. Instead of grabbing his clubs, he grabbed his gear and headed to Twin Towers.
Traffic was not allowed through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Undaunted, he strapped on 75 pounds of gear, and ran through the Tunnel into immortality.
“That’s my brother. He was always looking to help people out,” said his brother George Siller.
“I’m sure he was thinking about his family as he was running to the Towers but his duty overcame everything,” said Stephen’s brother Frank. “When the towers went down I turned to my mother-in-law and said ‘I just lost my brother’.”
Stephen was last seen alive on West and Liberty Streets, but his courage and that of his FDNY brothers and sisters still inspires thousands of people today. The FDNY are known as the bravest and that infamous day in September demonstrated what true bravery is all about.
“When he was called upon he was going to do his duty. What it says about his character is he was unshakable,” Frank said.
Distraught over Stephen’s death his family looked for a way to honor him. He left behind a loving wife, Sarah, five children and six brothers and sisters. Through the tears came the idea and the creation of the Stephen Siller, FDNY “Let Us Do Good” Children’s Foundation. Their signature fundraising event: the Tunnel to Towers Run, a race that retraces his journey and advances charitable efforts for many needy families.
“A friend of Stephen said do what he did and run through the tunnel,” explained Stephen’s older brother Russell.
The reach of the Tunnel to Towers Run is global. Every year, people from all over the world, travel to New York to take part and honor Stephen and his fallen brothers. This year, for the first time, a race is being run in Afghanistan and Iraq in honor of the Tunnel to Towers run here in New York.
Part of the money raised has gone to burn centers, to scholarship funds and last fall to “Stephen’s House” a foundry for troubled teens. Money helps support families of the military and firefighters who are in need. The Siller family never forgets their loss, but they know Stephen would be proud.
“It’s just a phenomenal attitude that day that is as much a surprise to us. We couldn’t have choreographed that kind of emotion. We couldn’t have choreographed that kind of enthusiasm. That comes from the heart. It comes from the meaning of the event, that it’s a September 11 tribute,” said Stephen’s sister Janis Hannan.
This race touches lives. For some they get chills running in Stephen’s footsteps, for others they pay homage to a family member or friend who died on 9/11. One thing is certain, everyone who takes part in the run is deeply affected in a very personal way.