Guest column: An inspiring run for an inspiring cause

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11/02/2010 5:27 PM |

It’s not a very long tunnel and has none of the history or stature of its larger cousins, the Midtown and the Holland. The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was a conduit for firefighters coming to aid those in need on Sept. 11, 2001. One in particular, Stephen Siller, heard on his scanner that the World Trade Center had been hit and turned his vehicle around and headed to help.
When he couldn’t get through he raced on foot towards the site with his gear strapped to his back. He was one of the thousands lost that day. The benefit Tunnel to Towers Run/Walk on Sept. 15 retraced the steps of firefighter Siller on that fateful day. In running you have the opportunity to remember and honor the fire, police and EMS personnel and the victims who made the ultimate sacrifice on 9/11.
Southold Fire Department graciously sponsored more than a dozen runners and their family members for the trip into New York City and the 5K run. Department members and family from Mattituck, Greenport and East Marion departments joined in as well.
There were plenty of event people ready to help. One of our group, Patty Cummings, found herself mistakenly listed as a walker, but had no trouble remedying the problem. After sorting the paperwork sorted and donning our running gear we headed for the start.  Calling it a starting line is a bit of a misnomer. With nearly 10,000 entrants there were more than a few minutes delay in the race’s start. We watched it all on one of the many large screen TVs that carried it live while we waited our turn. There were men, women and children lined up and ready to go. The announcers spoke of firefighters and people from all over the U.S. and the world who came out to support the effort. Several ran in their full fire fighting gear, some included air packs on their backs. There were soldiers, sailors and marines and 1,200 cadets from West Point led by their commanding officer.
It was a sea of humanity linked in one cause.
My friend Chris Manfredi participated last year. Running like it was a race, he later regretted not enjoying the event. He told me about the reception waiting at the end of the tunnel. The roadway steadily dips and gradually rises as you exit. You know precisely when you are on your way out. The cheers of many runners echoed as they celebrated the welcoming sunshine. An unending ribbon of flags lined the roadway on the left carried by firefighters in uniforms from all over the world. They stood shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of larger-than-life photos of each FDNY member lost on 9/11. Below each face was a name and a company number. Those holding the posters were the brothers, nieces, nephews and friends. The emotional and visual impact was profound.
I walked over to the World Trade Center memorial construction site and spoke with some of the workers inside the fence. They spoke of the waterfalls being built and the trees they just planted. They were excited explaining that next year we can run right through the park where they’re workng. Some of the construction guys in their hard hats and flannel shirts weren’t composed enough to speak, their cheeks glistened with silent tears. I was overcome with emotion and found it hard to catch my breath myself. It was the closest I had been to Ground Zero since that day in 2001. I needed a moment to gather myself. Some runners knelt silently nearby.
The run continued around lower Manhattan with the waterfront walkway and park offering a magnificent view of nearby Jersey City and the Statue of Liberty. The fireboats were in full water cannon display and the marching bands played on.
Some of the victims’ families held up posters of sons and daughters and moms and dads who were lost. So much life and celebration to commemorate so much death and tragedy. A day like so few others where each of us knows exactly where we were and how we watched in horror and silence, now marked with a raucous display of community and a celebration of life.  
I wanted to hug, to cheer, to cry and just say thank you to somebody. I needed to run again.
The finish line lay somewhere just ahead. Smiles were everywhere, everyone beamed. In uniform or not, runner or spectator, no matter what the race, color, religion, orientation or persuasion, you wore a smile. Everybody was of one mind again, just like on that day, if only for a moment. I needed to get that again, the unity, the hope and the oneness.  
As tough as it was, I was glad for this chance.
Mr. Becht resides in Southold and serves as a fire department EMT.



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