NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Thousands of runners took the same journey as fallen 9/11 hero Stephen Siller on Sunday.
With 60 pounds of equipment on his back, Siller ran from Brooklyn to the Twin Towers to help save lives after the terror attack 16 years ago.
CBS2’s Vanessa Murdock was at the starting line in Red Hook with participants in this year’s Tunnel to Towers 5k Run & Walk.
“He had five kids of his own, he ran through the tunnel with 60 pounds of gear on his back. He was willing to put it all on the line to save somebody he didn’t know,” Stephen’s brother, Frank, tells WCBS 880’s Kelly Waldron.
The walk is held each year on the last Sunday of September. It began with 1,500 people in 2002, and now is considered by many to be one of the top 5k runs in the United States, according to the Stephen Siller Foundation.
The event symbolizes Siller’s final footsteps and pays homage to the 343 FDNY firefighters, 71 law enforcement officers, and thousands of civilians who lost their lives in the attack.
As 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria reported, more than 30,000 participants made the decision to run through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, just the way Siller did.
Among the runners is Siller’s 16-year-old son, also named Stephen.
“It makes me proud, I’m proud of what he did and what it stands for nowadays and the good that’s come out of it,” he said.
Laurie Rudnick is a cousin of fallen firefighter John Vigiano and his brother, fallen NYPD police officer Joseph Vigiano.
She’s participated in the annual race for the past four years and is doing so again this year.
“This foundation has become such a huge part of my life,” she said. “It embodies everything that I ever thought that I wanted to do to honor my cousins’ memories.”
Tony Lemma, Regional Vice President of the NY Metro Region for The Home Depot, is running as he does every year.
“The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers is amazing,” he tells CBS2. “It’s humbling, it’s our duty.”
Firefighters and family members from all over the country are proud to take part.
“I come to it every year. My brother was a New York City firefighter. Fortunately, his life was saved,” said Kathy Masterson of Southbury, Connecticut. “I’ve seen firefighters from all over the world — Australia and South Africa. The brotherhood is just incredible.”
Newark firefighter Edwin Paulo and 81 others from his department have been participating for six years. He said each year, as they cross the finish line, they are even more impressed.
“It’s just amazing. It’s overwhelming. It’s emotional,” Paulo said. “There are a lot of great things that come out of this.”
Brian Artilles came all the way from California.
“For me it’s kind of just giving back to those people who already gave so much,” he told WCBS 880.
The event raises money for the Stephen Siller Foundation, which has raised over $70 million for the families of first responders and military personnel who have died in the line of duty.
The foundation also helps those who have suffered catastrophic injuries. Mike Bowie of Westchester said helping others is why he runs.
“I was at the World Trade Center on 9/11, and the big takeaway for me that day always was that it was a day of pure evil and pure good. And that really is the theme of this race,” he told 1010 WINS.
At the closing ceremony, pictures of the hundreds of city firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11 were displayed.
Frank Siller said he never could have predicted just how popular and meaningful this day has become.
“Never in my wildest dreams,” he told CBS2’s Erin Logan. “All we wanted to do was honor my brother, and I think we’re doing pretty good.”
To date, Siller estimates the Tunnel to Towers Foundation has raised $85 million. Sunday’s event alone raised another $2 million, and Siller said he expects that amount to be even higher next year.
CBS2 continues to serve as a proud media sponsor of the event.