Tunnel To Towers…And Beyond

About four months ago I began to remake my life with healthier choices. Better nutrition, added exercise (or any exercise). Along the way I’ve lost inches and pounds. I’ve gained confidence and my smile. It’s been a big change for me and I’ve done it on my own. Oh, I’m not alone. I have a BIG group of supporters cheering me on and encouraging me and I’m quite grateful for them. But I’ve had to be my own accountability partner. That’s just how life is for me at this time. That’s probably been the biggest challenge for me – keeping my motivation up and keeping the negative voices quiet. I’ve changed the way I eat. I’ve created new habits. I’ve tried new and amazing things that I never thought I could do. And I’ve loved every part of this new journey.

When a friend recently shared that he would be participating in a local 5K my mind sped into high gear. That was going to be my next goal. And it was coming in just a few days! Was I crazy? Probably. But, today I entered my first 5K. It was a big deal for me.

I started the day a little nervous, a little disconnected, and a little excited. I had to stop for a deep breath as I pinned my bib to my shirt. Was I really going to do this?  It wasn’t a big deal, right? It’s not like I was planning to run the whole thing. Maybe I wouldn’t run at all. It’s only 3.1 miles. I walk 6+ miles every day. This was nothing. But, this was everything. This was another step outside my comfort zone. This was another move toward something I believed I would never do – had no interest in doing. This was another moment of redefining ‘me.’

It was clear that I was pretty self-absorbed as I drove to the fire hall where we were to start. My son was volunteering as a Scout with the Honor Guard. I was annoyed at his tardiness on my day. But we made it there and I got him set up with the Guard and went back to focusing on me and what a cool thing I was doing. Did everybody know it was my first 5K? They should be proud of me.

Then many of the other participants started showing up. This particular 5K appealed to me because of it’s beneficiaries and back story. This was the Steven Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K. This was about an amazing first responder on 9/11/2001. This was about every first responder that came before him, all who have come after and all who will choose to serve in years to come. It was a beautiful cause and I wanted to be a part of it. How naive I was.

I stood there wallowing in my own pride at having stayed motivated to walk a 5K. I stood and watched groups of firefighters come, dressed in turnout gear, ready to run their 5K. I stood and watched the military  in fatigues pass out badges containing the names of first responders who lost their lives while assisting on 9/11. I stood and watched police shake hands to thank the firefighters and then quietly take their places along the race route to ensure our safety. I stood and watched uniformed members of  Homeland Security straighten their hats, polish their buttons and roll out their flags. I stood and watched ROTC kids check each other’s uniform for neatness before taking their place next to the Honor Guard, standing proud and ready to lead the way. It was getting hard to stand.

The pre-race festivities were new to me. I wasn’t sure what to expect and it’s likely a little different at every race. At this one, as we stood in the shadow of a giant American flag, I heard the story of Steven Siller. “On September 11, 2001, Stephen, who was assigned to Brooklyn’s Squad 1, had just finished his shift and was on his way to play golf with his brothers when he got word over his scanner of a plane hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Upon hearing the news, Stephen called his wife Sally and asked her to tell his brothers he would catch up with them later. He returned to Squad 1 to get his gear.

Stephen drove his truck to the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, 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.” (from Tunnel to Towers Foundation)

Again, I found it hard to stand. Yet, at the same time I think I never stood taller – wanting to honor him. As I listened to Steven’s story and looked around at the firefighters surrounding me, this race was no longer about me. I took another deep breath – this time to stop the tears of gratitude from falling.

Soon, it was time to take our places and begin the race. I walked up to the start, near the back of the group since I knew I was walking, and followed a firefighter in full gear, including his air tank. And I stopped. For the first time I truly felt like I didn’t belong in this race. These people are my life savers. I am nobody. Then, I stepped forward. I DO belong. I belong here because these people need to know they matter to all the nobodies who take them for granted until we really need them. I stepped on, proudly.

Along the route there were signs with pictures and names of the many people who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks. After the turn there were more signs of the many first responders who lost their lives in the line of duty. At times I wanted to stop. It hurt to see the faces. At times my pace slowed to read their names. Eventually my pace quickened and I jogged past the first responder pictures – I needed to give more, to honor them. I will push myself for a few minutes here because they did it day after day. I followed that race route with firefighters wearing 60+ pounds of gear, some even running in their boots. I was not going to complain or slow down. I owed them that. This was important to them. I saw a little piece of their brotherhood at work on that route and it was beautiful. The camaraderie among different houses, the cheering and constant support of every effort was humbling.

When I came into the finish line, they clapped for me. The Honor Guard, the police and soldiers and firefighters who’d already finished….all of them clapped for me and cheered me on. I breathed deep in order not to cry. I can’t thank them enough for all they do for me, for my family, for my community – and yet, they clap for me.

This was my first 5K. No other will come close to this experience for many reasons. Today started all about me. Thankfully, that quickly changed and a better perspective was gained. Thank you, first responders, for all you do and all you are. Never Forget.


(please follow the link above to learn more about the Steven Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation and all the great work they do)

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