Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Run 2016: Following the Footsteps of a 9/11 Hero

SI Advance - September 27, 2016

by Caroline Jastremski

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- This year's Tunnel to Towers run was my third go around with the 15th annual event, but there was something different about this year's dance. Following the events in Chelsea that preceded Sunday's race, there was an extra butterfly -- or two -- in the competitors lining up along the streets in Brooklyn. And I was for sure one of them.

As a notorious worrywart, I didn't know what to fret about first. The tunnel? Wouldn't it be dark, crowded and way too hot? What if I pass out? What if I can't finish? The list honestly went on and on. I even felt guilty for not being able to be strictly excited about the whole experience.

A few days before the bout, Chairman Frank Siller sent participants an email reassuring eager runners that the safest place to be Sunday morning would be the Tunnel to Towers race. Stephen's brother also added that the bar would be set extremely high to ensure safety and an enjoyable environment.

I'd be lying if I said that the message alone put me at ease, but it was soothing to know that extra precautions would be taken as we stood tall for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

As I stepped out of the car in Red Hook and greeted my fellow racemates on the streets leading up to the tunnel, I saw other runners rocking American flag socks and even more sporting FDNY shirts and hoodies. I caught a glimpse of friends and family members smiling ear to ear. And most importantly, I spotted firefighters in their gear without a look of apprehension on their face.

Slowly, but surely, I started to lose some of the fear that followed me around moments before. It was as if the moment begged me to step outside of my head and become a part of something bigger than myself.

This is what it was all about. This was New Yorkers at their best.

September 11th didn't make us weaker, it made us stronger. It didn't tear us apart, it brought us together.

As I made my way out of the tunnel, I was hot, exhausted and knew I had over a mile to go. But the chants of U-S-A and the endless American flags waving around me filled me with a second-wind like no other. The hands of firefighters, military servers and encouraging fans were all reaching out to give that little boost I needed to just keep going.

They were there to show us their support, and I wanted to be there to show them mine.

Suddenly, I remembered why I signed up in the first place. I didn't just want to honor those heroes that were there for us fifteen years ago, or recognize those that fight for our freedom today. I wanted to make the choice to feel united with my fellow New Yorkers and show fear that we would stand tall.

The heat of the dark and crowded tunnel? We could get through it.

The dry mouth and sore legs? We could ride it out.

The intrusive thoughts that popped into our heads? We could show them who's boss.

What I came to realize was that the 30,000 participants that ran and walked Sunday morning all felt those jitters, they just let stronger feelings take precedence over them.

After all, that's what the hero whose footsteps we are following in did.

Fifteen years ago, Stephen Siller drove his truck to the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel after hearing that a plane hit one of towers on his scanner, but it had already been closed for security purposes. Determined to carry out his duty, he strapped 60 lbs. of gear to his back, and raced on foot through the tunnel to the Twin Towers, where he gave up his life while saving others.

It's moments like these that call on us and leave us with the choice to run or hide. To face the fear or shy away. Stephen Siller made his choice, and because of him so can New Yorkers.

So sure, coming into Sunday morning I was a ball of nerves. But that's what it's all about; feel the fear and do it anyway.

————— 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.