Two Generations of Family Run to Remember 9/11 Hero

The Wall Street Journal - September 13, 2018

by Mengqi

Joe Downey followed in his father’s footsteps to the New York City Fire Department—and the New York City Marathon.

His dad, FDNY Deputy Chief Raymond M. Downey, was a decorated firefighter who died as a first responder on Sept. 11, 2001, when the north tower at the World Trade Center collapsed. He was also an avid jogger who ran for more than 40 years and competed in four New York City Marathons.

“He continued running up until he was killed,” the younger Mr. Downey said of his dad in an interview last week.

Joe Downey, 56 years old, is an FDNY battalion chief in rescue operations. He said when he was growing up in Deer Park, Long Island, he and his father would go for runs together. They first raced together in the city marathon in 1981.

The younger Mr. Downey has run six marathons in total. In November, he will compete in his seventh, this time with other family members joining him. He will run with two of his nieces, who are the elder Mr. Downey’s granddaughters. The family said that competing together was a way to honor the late Mr. Downey, who was 63 when he died 17 years ago Tuesday. They plan to wear shirts with his name and an FDNY-related logo that they designed themselves.

“It’s been 17 years since 9/11. Many people forget what happened that day,” the younger Mr. Downey said. “We want to keep his legacy a bit longer, so people remember him.”

An expert in rescue operations, the elder Mr. Downey directed the recovery efforts at the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and assisted in the recovery after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The FDNY said he was honored for his bravery more than a dozen times.

Besides his work as a first responder, he loved sports, especially hockey and running, his son said. His family shared this passion—his five children and 15 grandchildren all play sports and run. This year’s city marathon will be the first for granddaughters Gina and Nikki Tortorici.

Nikki Tortorici, 23, said she got into long-distance running two years ago. She has so far competed in several 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer races and three half-marathons. Her grandfather’s racing history motivated her to run a marathon.

“If my grandpa can do it four times, I have to at least do it once,” she said.

Her sister Gina Tortorici, 25, said they had already been planning to run a marathon, but the idea of competing in memory of their grandfather has given them “a little extra push” to get out and start training.

“Running really has brought not only my family closer, in terms of physically being together, it’s such a mental force,” she said.