NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – One of the most emotional moments of the annual Tunnel to Towers run is when the critically injured service members retrace Stephen Siller’s famous steps to the World Trade Center.
- The Tunnel to Towers Foundation builds homes or pays off mortgages for families of those killed in the line of duty at home or abroad
- Find out more about the annual Tunnel to Towers run
Walking up to the starting line is a freedom many take for granted, but not 28-year-old U.S. Army Specialist Matt Leyva.
Leyva lost both his legs in 2012 after stepping on an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan.
“Every day is a struggle just getting out of bed. It’s just one of those struggles you have to overcome to get past,” the veteran explained.
Leyva says the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation has helped him live his best life.
“Last September 11th, I was ordered a smart home and it completely changed my life. I gives me my independence back,” Leyva said.
The home was built to meet Leyva’s needs. Equipped with a moving stove and shelves, and a wheelchair accessible shower. The gift and the foundation’s undying support fueled Leyva’s motivation to show gratitude by following the steps of firefighter Stephen Siller, from Brooklyn to Manhattan.
Dozens of wounded veterans, like Army Corporal Chris Levi and Marine Sgt. Rob Jones, are retracing the journey this year.
Levi received his smart home in Melville, Long Island in July.
Jones, will move into his home in Virginia later this year.
“Them (the foundation) giving us these homes that are perfectly suited for us is going to allow us to maximize our potential and maximize our productivity,” Jones said.
“It’s changed my whole family’s life,” Levi added.
Thousands of military cadets cheered on the veterans as they entered the tunnel just as Stephen Siller did 17 years ago.
“They’re all about to do amazing things and they came out to support us. It’s awesome,” Levi said.
“He (Stephen Siller) didn’t stop to tell people he ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. He ran there to work that day. If that’s not inspiring I don’t know what is.”
Countless people have been inspired by these wounded warriors taking on challenges that many able-bodied people would not.
Jones, who lost both his legs eight years ago in an explosion in Afghanistan, was the first to cross the finish line Sunday and said it was a humbling experience.
“It’s sobering and it makes you feel a lot of humility knowing that we’re here running on a beautiful day, through that tunnel, where on Sept. 11 it was a hellish day and they still ran over here,” Jones said.