The first local Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K Run and Walk on Friday provides a new way for the Columbia area to build on its connection to the Sept. 11 relief effort.
The first Tunnel to Towers run in 2002 traced the route run on Sept. 11, 2001, by Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter and father of five who died at the World Trade Center. Siller was off duty that day, but when he heard about the attack, he strapped on 60 pounds of gear and ran from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center.
The annual run serves not only to remind participants of the sacrifices made by first responders and service members, but it also raises funds for projects aimed to help those men and women and their families. Last year, nearly 30,000 people ran in the New York race. About 1,500 had registered for the Columbia race by Tuesday, including 900 members of the military.
Several years ago, the organizers began staging Tunnel to Towers events in other cities. This year, the Columbia event is among 13, including one for service members in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Columbia seemed a natural location for the race, organizers said. The region has a large military presence and a history of rallying behind the 9/11 relief effort. In 2001, teachers and students at White Knoll Middle School led a drive to buy a new fire truck for the New York Fire Department.
Columbia’s special backstory struck a chord nationally. New York City had provided a fire truck for Columbia after the city was destroyed by fire in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. After 9/11, Columbia wanted to return the favor. The effort easily raised the $350,000 for the truck.
“The fire departments have a great affiliation between Columbia and New York City,” said Frank Siller, Stephen Siller’s brother and chairman of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. “It just makes a lot of sense that we bring the run there. You guys were there for us, and we won’t forget it. That’s part of the mission of the foundation, never forget.”
The Columbia event will be the first of the Tunnel to Towers races this year, with others planned for Sept. 7 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Orlando; Vero Beach, Fla.; and Nashville; Sept. 8 in Cincinnati; Sept. 14 in Savannah; Sept. 15 in Mobile, Ala.; Sept. 21 in Raleigh, N.C.; and Sept. 28 in New York City.
While the event originally was designed to celebrate first responders, its focus has been broadened to include military members. Runners are encouraged to raise funds, which go to the building of smart homes for amputee veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through the Building for America’s Bravest program.
Lexington Medical Center Foundation, which sponsors the race locally, also will use proceeds from the race to promote health care efforts for South Carolina first responders.
Online registration is accepted through 7 p.m. Wednesday at t2trun.org. Late registration will be accepted at the run, which begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Colonial Life Arena at 801 Lincoln St.