Letter: ‘We are here for a purpose’
I wish to share with you a special and stellar weekend. The Tunnel to Towers race was run in Manhattan on Sept. 29 to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 event. The course was 3.5 miles and followed the path run by Steven Siller, an off-duty fireman who, caught in tunnel traffic on the way home, grabbed his turnout gear and ran the 3.5 miles back to the towers carrying and wearing 75 pounds of gear. He perished in the Twin Towers.
The run followed his footsteps and was a hugely emotional and powerful experience. I did it with my daughter and 35,000 other runners. The "race" led out with the entire corps of cadets from West Point, approximately 2,500 strong, running in company formations with flags and pennants flying. The line was long and impressive, augmented by companies of Marines in Boots and Utes. They were followed by a group of severely wounded warriors, many running on blades or rolling wheelchairs. Some even had babies on their backs or being towed in dinghies. On the early morning ride to Brooklyn for the start, the Statue of Liberty was lit by the early morning sun and was stunning. After the leadout group, the remainder of us started out and it was an impressive sight to see the mass orderly neck down and set out running. I was chatting with a New Yorker in line and she said, "This is not a run for time or PRs, we are here for a purpose." I was surrounded by people of all races, age and class. There were huge numbers of firemen from all over the country, many of them in heavy-duty turnout gear which they planned to run in. There were also large numbers of people in WTC T-shirts with pictures of friends and loved ones who perished in the Towers in the crowd.
The run through the tunnel was hot and noisy, as well as long. Periodically, the "USA, USA" chant would echo through. I was running hard and dodging fading runners as it was crowded, but when feeling hot and down, looked up to see a firefighter in full gear pounding on ahead of me. After over a mile in the tunnel, I finally passed him as well as three in funny yellow helmets. When I caught up with them there were Union Jacks on their backs, as they were from England.
The hill out of the tunnel was long and steep, but was not noticed because as the cool air and light hit the runners we saw that on the left was a line of 100 Coast Guardsmen, each with an American flag waving and, on the right side, was an equal line of NYC firefighters in dress blues with white gloves. If you pulled over to the right and ran up the line, they high-fived you. It was a rush all the way up the hill and then you saw the new tower; end of sentence. The remainder of the race was a blur.
My description does not capture the energy and emotion, but it was an awesome experience and I would encourage the runners among you to do it, if you can. I hope to run it next year with both my daughter and son.
Dr. Robert George