By Class of 2023 Cadet Trevor HarkerNEW YORK-- Members from the Corps of Cadets have participated in the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation 5K every year since 2009.The race commemorates the tenacity and commitment of firefighter Stephen Siller. The firefighter was off-duty when the first plane hit the North Tower. He called his wife to tell her he would be late getting home, collected his gear from the Squad 1 firehouse in Brooklyn and began driving toward Manhattan, hoping to meet up with his company and assist in the rescue.The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was closed to traffic by the time he arrived. With 60 pounds of gear, Siller ran through the tunnel to reach the World Trade Center. He perished along with 411 other emergency rescue workers, 2,192 civilians inside the towers and 147 civilians who were inside the planes that collided with the towers. The 5K route we ran follows his path to reach the towers.My father regularly conducted business in the World Trade Center. He took me a few times when I was too young to remember properly. I knew of the towers' existence, but not of their destruction-until years after the event.My father had been scheduled to attend a conference in the Windows on the World, on the 107th floor of the North Tower the morning of 9/11. He was too sick to go and stayed home that day. My parents shielded me from the news. The attack was not a topic of discussion in my household. By the time I learned of the tragedy it was as abstract as World War II.
Tunnel to Towers gave me a chance to build an emotional connection with 9/11 I had been missing.For three days prior to the 5K, I was bedridden with a dreadful illness. I was not fully recovered by 4 a.m. on Sunday. As we formed up to board the buses, I was feeling sorry for myself. My body was overcome with fatigue, head pounding and stomach churning.The malaise stuck with me until the Corps jogged a quarter mile to the mouth of the tunnel. It then became a bit worse as I dreaded the long run. Fourth Regiment was closest to the starting line, so we heard cheering and clapping before we saw the vanguard. Children, old people, men in wheelchairs and with blades on amputated legs and teens in firefighting gear ran by, excited as could be. As soon as they came into view I was cleansed.The vanguard entered the right lane of the tunnel, with the Corps following into the left lane, peeling off from the end of the line, so that those closest to the starting line would join the formation at the back.
The mechanics of a four-man front 2,000 strong had us starting the race at a dead sprint until the first dead stop. The spirit of the Corps carried me through the tunnel with ease. The heat was becoming oppressive in the tunnel when a blast of chilly air and the cheers of spectators hit me.
The sudden change was tremendously invigorating. The rest of the course was lined with supporters, some with memorials, some in uniform, many with hands outstretched for high fives. For the first time in my life I wished I could keep running after it was time to stop.We were greeted at the finish line with speeches from Col.Curtis Buzzard, Master Sgt. Cedric King and the director of the 9/11 Memorial Alice Greenwald.They spoke on the impact of 9/11, the memorial run and the memorial itself, the importance of resilience and expressed thanks to the Corps of Cadets for coming out. After this, we were released. I was in the absolute highest spirits, completely rejuvenated in body and mind. I love coming to the 9/11 Memorial.The site of overwhelming tragedy has been transformed into what may be the most beautiful and vibrant area in all of Manhattan. This was my first visit to the museum. The architecture is immaculately designed for maximum impact. The most transcendent experience of the day was walking down the main staircase of the museum and seeing the foundation wall of the original towers slowly come in to view. It was a beautiful climax to the day. I cannot wait to run again next year.