Hundreds of runners make their way to the top of One...

Hundreds of runners make their way to the top of One World Observatory including Marine veteran Robert Jones, who lost both legs to an IED in Afghanistan. Credit: Todd Maisel

Want to have the feeling of climbing to the top of the world — and for a good cause?

After a two-year hiatus forced by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, the Tunnel to Towers Tower Climb New York City returns June 5, when 1,000 climbers will ascend the 2,226 steps to the top of the 104-story One World Observatory to honor the sacrifices of 9/11 heroes and first responders who lost their lives due to 9/11-related illnesses.

The climb is one of numerous nationwide events hosted by the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which was established to honor the sacrifice of FDNY Firefighter Stephen Siller, who died responding to the attacks on the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. For 20 years, the foundation has supported first responders, veterans and their families by providing mortgage-free homes and mortgage payoffs for injured veterans, first responders, Gold Star families and the families of fallen first responders.

In addition to the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, the climb also supports the Captain Billy Burke Jr. Foundation, which provides tuition assistance at Burke's alma mater, SUNY Potsdam, for children of NYC firefighters. Burke and his men helped evacuate the north tower before he died in the collapse.

Additionally, the Tunnel to Towers Foundation last week also announced a separate event to raise $1 million for the children of Ukraine.

The fastest tower climb time was set in the first year, 2015, when Tim Donahue won in 11:38, according to the Tunnel to Towers Tower Climb site. The second-fastest time was 12:05 by Piotr Lobodzinski in 2018. The fastest woman was Emanuele Manzi, who won in 12:41 in 2018 and was a repeat winner in 2019 in 12:48.

Hundreds of racers ascend the stairs to the top of One...

Hundreds of racers ascend the stairs to the top of One World Observatory. Credit: Todd Maisel

Climbers will climb the steps alongside members of the NYPD, FDNY, Port Authority Police Department and New York State Court Officers as they race to reach the top of One World, a building the organization said "symbolizes strength, hope, and the resiliency of the American spirit."

Registration is open to just 1,000 climbers and can be secured at the website

Erika Oelkers, whose FDNY firefighter husband Thomas Oelkers died last May after a battle with a 9/11-related illness, will serve as the honorary starter for the climb. Oelkers served with the NYPD before joining the FDNY, where he served for two decades. Last June the Tunnel to Towers Foundation announced it had paid off the mortgage on the home of Erika Oelkers and her three children in Floral Park.

Between 2001 and 2020 the organization either built or paid off the mortgages on 250 homes across the United States involving fire, police, medical or military personnel and their families. The foundation also hosts the annual Tunnel to Towers 5k run and walk each September.

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