Tunnel to Towers Run: 'You Hear the Siller Name, You want to Help Out'

Staten Island Advance - September 24, 2016

by Jim Waggoner

There's nothing particularly flashy about Marty McGowan's involvement with local road racing, but then there wasn't any real flashiness to his long running career, either.

He'd hit the starting line at St. Peter's HS, where he graduated in 1969, and then as a cross-country captain during his final two years at Marist, with a dogged determination that opponents knew they'd have to contend with.

"Marty was a competitor and a very tough runner," said running historian Jeff Benjamin of McGowan's later road-racing exploits that found a competitive stride in the 1970s and 1980s. "When a race started, he took it to you as hard as he could. You expected that from him, of course."

McGowan takes that attitude with him to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K Run/Walk, which goes off for the 15th consecutive year this Sunday morning. He plans to be near the finish line, just like the previous 14 events, with wife Ann and son Matthew also wearing volunteer credentials.

There are now literally thousands of Siller Run volunteers, coming from various parts of the United States to pay tribute to the 343 firefighters who died during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, including heroic Firefighter Stephen Siller. Another 30,000 runners are expected to convene in lower Manhattan in a race that long ago took on a life of its own, spreading both locally and nationally.


There were 3,400 entrants at the first go-round, in 2002, when the Pepper Martin Run committee followed the lead of Mike McVey and Michael Brennan among the first volunteers. McGowan was one of those volunteers, helping take name-tags from race finishers and handing out medals. So to were legendary NYC Marathon race starter Vic Navarra and attorney Bill Codd, one of Stephen Siller's closest friends.

"Really it boils down to when you hear the Siller name, you want to help out and do something for them," said McGowan. "And you mean it from the bottom of your heart. It's a family thing. We look forward to it all year."

McGowan has a deep personal interest, starting with the fact that he was in his office at 50 Park Place on Sept. 11, 2001. He put in 31 years with the N.Y. Department of Labor, but nothing compared to that dark day. He had to convince a panic-stricken co-worker that fleeing the building was the prudent thing to do, escaping before their own building eventually collapsed.

Russ Siller, the oldest of Stephen Siller's three brothers and the one who had thoughts of a memorial race in the weeks following 9/11, was McGowan's English teacher during the teenager's junior year at St. Peter's. He also was the tennis coach of a team that included McGowan's brother, Bob.

McGowan was two years behind Pepper Martin in high school.

"Russ really wasn't that much older than us students but he taught in a way that the lessons had significance," said McGowan. "He was one of the good guys."

Technology has taken some of the finish-line labor out of the volunteer mix, but not all of it.


McGowan will be stationed in the same vicinity where some 30,000 runners and walkers will charge out of the tunnel to find an enormous celebration on the Manhattan side.

"Runners' safety is one of our big concerns," he said "because people hit the finish line these days and want to take selfies. We tell them, 'Keep moving, keep moving.' My job is to make sure that nobody crashes into anybody else."

Those who know McGowan best know that he'll be helpful and productive, no matter his assignment.

"Marty's just one of those guys who goes about his business," said Benjamin. "He's so low-key when it comes to volunteerism that he doesn't need attention. He doesn't stand out in a crowd but you know he'll do whatever needs to be done. If you know running on Staten Island, you know Marty McGowan."

————— As always, the Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk is made possible by the support of literally thousands of volunteers including The Home Depot Foundation, presenting sponsor for the event. Other generous sponsors and supporters include GMC, Johnson & Johnson, Carpet One, CBS2 New York, UPS, Bracewell & Giuliani, Southeast Friends of Stephen Siller, Profit One, New York Jets, Fresh 102.7, WCBSFM 101.1, 92.3 NOW, WCBS News Radio 880, 1010 WINS, WFAN 66 AM and Semper Fi Fund, among others.

For more information on the Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk, please visit Tunnel2Towers.org; or find the organization on Facebook at Tunnel to Towers Foundation and on Twitter @Tunnel2Towers.