Editor’s Note: This very special post comes from a Muhlenberg College senior and member of the Mules lacrosse team. Follow this squad from Pennsylvania’s patriotic journey to New York City on September 11th to honor those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center tragedies.
At 6a.m.on a clear, hot summer-like day, the Muhlenberg College men’s lacrosse team was on the bus headed to New York City to run the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K.
For those of us who participated in the run two years ago, we didn’t think twice about having to get up early. The younger guys who hadn’t ran in the past fed off our energy when they saw how excited the upperclassmen were to head back.
Stephen Siller, a FDNY firefighter out of Park Slope, Brooklyn, from Rockville Centre, New York, lost his life on September 11th. Siller worked the night shift and was heading home that morning when he heard the news of the first tower being hit. He called his wife and turned back.
When he found the Battery Tunnel was closed, he grabbed his gear, ditched his truck, ran through the tunnel to the towers and never made it out.
The 5k carries on the legacy and sacrifice of Stephen Siller and all the others who were lost. This was the 13th annual 5K, and the Stephen Siller foundation has grown tremendously and holds similar 5Ks throughout the country. The Stephen Siller Foundation builds smart homes that are powered by iPads for wounded veterans.
It took about 30 minutes to register and eventually make our way over to the block-long crowd to behind the starting line. The race starts at NYFD Squad 1, Siller’s firehouse, and retraces his final steps. Following the national anthem at about 10a.m., the Mules and 30,000 other runners headed off in their respective waves.
Firefighters from around the world ran came to run in their gear to pay tribute while military units ran together in their workout fatigues. About 15 minutes after the start we jogged past the news crews, high-fived Governor Cuomo and started off towards the tunnel toll free.
“U-S-A!” chants broke out in the muggy tunnel as music played through speakers. Memories of 9/11 distracted us from the miles left to go. We weaved through the packed tunnel sticking together in groups. Light emerged at the end of the tunnel to the first breath of the new World Trade Center buildings, now completed unlike two years ago.
Over a thousand West Point cadets lined the streets bearing American flags, while firefighters dressed in formal blues held banners of the faces of each one lost that tragic day. I ran harder, acknowledging each face, nodding to those who carried them.
We ran along the Hudson River through Battery Park with a view of the Statue of Liberty shining in the distance. Local cheerleading squads and marching bands cheered us on along the way. We made a final turn out of the park to the finish line at the base of the Freedom Tower. We all met back together and took a moment to look up and take it all in.
Before heading back to the bus we walked through the Ground Zero Memorial. The twin reflecting pools, an acre big each, sit on the foundation where the towers once stood. I got lost looking down into the biggest manmade waterfall in the country, thinking how that one day changed everything for all. I read the inscribed names on the bronze edging, listening to the water fall stories below. I never visited the monument before, so it really fulfilled this tribute even more so than the last time we ran in it.
We all ran with a sense of pride and ran for something bigger than us all. It was truly a humbling experience. As sophomore Brad D’Alessandro put it, “It was so inspiring to see firefighters running in their gear, others who crutched or completed the race in wheelchairs. It was just so American.”
A few of our parents ran with us, while others came and met us at the finish line. We spoke with a couple prospective students, who approached us asking questions about Muhlenberg College, and others acknowledged our effort in coming from Pennsylvania to run.
It was an honor to run with thousands of others to carry on the lives that were lost but never forgotten. There’s nothing like running through the Battery Tunnel, along the Hudson River in the shadow of the Freedom Tower on such hallowed ground on a beautiful Sunday morning in New York City. The guys look forward to doing it again next year.
For more information on the Stephen Siller Foundation and the many causes it supports, please visit TunnelToTowersRun.org
by Austin Akner ’15