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Race honors those who made 'ultimate sacrifice' on 9/11

Thousands of runners participated in the annual Tunnel to Towers run to honor the first responders who risked their lives on 9/11. (Credit: Todd Maisel)

Tens of thousands of runners — some in shorts, some wearing firefighter helmets — emerged from the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel connecting lower Manhattan with Brooklyn Sunday in remembrance of the sacrifices made by first responders at the World Trade Center 18 years ago.

For some dressed in full firefighter gear, the 3.2-mile annual Tunnel to Towers race was a chance to retrace the steps of Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter and former Rockville Centre resident, who ran through the tunnel on Sept. 11, 2001, to the towers wearing 60 pounds of equipment. He died that day.

“We’re a little dirty, we’re a little sweaty, but you gotta support the brothers,” Lt. Dan Bennett, 36, a volunteer firefighter from Croton-on-Hudson, said after passing the finish line. Bennett came with about 15 firefighters from Westchester and New Jersey who wore their gear because that’s what Siller did.

“He gave his life to save others,” Bennett said. “It’s very important to us.”

About 30,000 people participated in the annual event that began in 2002, organizers said. The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation raises money to support injured service members and the families of fallen first responders and Gold Star families — families of those killed in military service.

Dan Moynihan, 54, arrived at the subway stop at Smith and Ninth Street in Brooklyn with an American flag he planned to carry in the race. Moynihan, who lives in Brooklyn but grew up in Freeport where he used to serve as a volunteer firefighter, said the flag had been flown over Washington, D.C., when the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which provides health coverage for first responders at Ground Zero, was extended in 2015.

Moynihan said he’s suffered health problems, including a brain tumor and respiratory problems, after spending a month in the dust and debris helping at Ground Zero after the attack.

“You knew the air was bad but … you don’t imagine just how bad the air actually is,” Moynihan said.

Moynihan regularly runs in the race and said the sight of banners bearing the faces of firefighters and police officers killed on Sept. 11 that line the street on the Manhattan side of the tunnel is always emotional.

“When you’re coming out of the tunnel it kinds of takes your breath away, to see how many first responders lost their lives that day,” he said.

This year, for the first time, the names and faces of nearly 7,000 military service members who were killed in the line of duty since 9/11 also line the route.

Sean Combs, an army instructor at Riverside High School in Riverside, New Jersey, brought 45 Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps students to line the route with signs.

Combs said it was important for the teenagers, who were born after 9/11, to participate “because they kind of see those who have gone before them and made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Hofstra University’s male and female lacrosse teams, about 90 students, came to the race as a group.

“Going through the tunnel, every fireman I saw, I tapped him on the back and said ‘thank you for your service,’ ” Riley Forte, 21, a senior at Hofstra and lacrosse team member said.

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