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Runners honor Nassau native in 9/11 race

Members of the military make their way to

Members of the military make their way to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel during the Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers Run/Walk. (Sept. 25, 2011) Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

A navy blue line of firefighters in dress uniforms clapped and cheered for the thousands of people who streamed out of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel into lower Manhattan for Sunday morning's Tunnel to Towers Run/Walk.

Each firefighter wore a photo of one of their 343 FDNY colleagues killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In Brooklyn, where the 5-kilometer run began, about 20 doves were released to mark the start of the annual event honoring Stephen Siller, a Rockville Centre native and New York City firefighter who was killed in the attack.

Siller, a father of five who was living on Staten Island, had been off-duty in Brooklyn when he learned of the World Trade Center attacks. He couldn't drive through the tunnel for security reasons, so he ran through it, carrying 75 pounds of gear.

"I had the chills the whole time," said runner Mike Minucci, 18, a firefighter with the Syosset Fire Department. He was one of about 30,000 who ran or walked through the tunnel Sunday, tracing the path that Siller, 34, sprinted 10 years ago. "It was an amazing experience."

Minucci's colleague, Logan Fischer, also 18 and a Syosset firefighter, ran while wearing some of his heavy firefighting gear, just as Siller did.

The run was capped by a block party with music by actor Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band, and attended by participants, families of 9/11 victims and residents.

There, Siller's brother Frank said the family didn't imagine the event would become something of a New York institution.

On the run's ninth anniversary, "it has grown even more important; the further you get away from it, the more time passes, the more we must remember it," said Siller, 58, of Staten Island.

He said the nation has made a promise not to forget the 9/11 victims, and in that vein, "The people here aren't forgetting, the people who come from all over the nation and world aren't, and, most obviously, the people in the military aren't."

Joan Kollar, of Middle Island, cheered on the runners from a chair near the end of the route.

"It's very emotional," said Kollar, 60, who couldn't run because she had broken her foot. "The sense of community here is moving. . . . With every tragedy, there's a closeness that's there forever." Her husband, Richard, 62, finished the run in about 40 minutes.

The Siller family, who founded the Tunnel to Towers Run/Walk in Stephen's honor, have raised more than $10 million -- including $2.5 million this year. Their website pointed out that the run is replicated in cities across the nation.

Helene Klappert, 53, of Long Beach, who said she woke up at 4:45 a.m. to travel to New York City to participate, said runners hoped to honor the sacrifice of Siller and others.

"We cried, then we did the race," added Port Washington resident Judy Cataia, 60, who ran with Klappert. "But it's not a race, it's a remembrance run."

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