NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- An estimated 25,000 people honored the memory Sunday of a New York City firefighter who gave his life on Sept. 11, 2001, by participating in the 13th annual Tunnel to Towers 5K Run and Walk through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.
The run follows the footsteps of firefighter Stephen Siller. On 9/11, Siller abandoned his truck and ran through the tunnel with all his gear toward the World Trade Center. He was killed when the South Tower collapsed.
Thousands Participate In 13th Annual Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers Run
"This is kind of the clearest demonstration of what America is ... and how we come together in times of crisis and how we protect those people who help protect us," said Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets, who partnered with the Tunnel to Towers Foundation.
Before the event, many runners told WCBS 880's John Metaxas they felt a very personal connection to the race because they believe they're honoring a true American hero and helping the work of the foundation named after Siller, which builds smart homes -- powered by iPads -- for wounded veterans.
"This race is the most motivating 5K you'll ever be at," Adam, a wounded veteran who is receiving a smart home in Annapolis, Maryland next spring, told CBS 2's Chris Wragge.
Siller's story is especially meaningful for many firefighters who make the Tunnel to Towers Run a part of their yearly routine now.
"When you exit the tunnel and see the flags and the pictures of the men and women who died (on 9/11), that is just chilling," said Maureen Nally, a firefighter in Jersey City. "To see these big, huge, life-size faces, and here you are struggling slightly to breathe, you realize that nothing is as hard as what they did that day and what their families live every day."
"I know my brother's smiling down on us today," Kathy Cunningham, who lost her brother on 9/11, told CBS 2's Diane Macedo. "I'm blessed to be able to turn a tragedy into a tribute. So I really followed the Siller's lead to honor their brother."
25,000 Participate In 13th Annual Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers Run
"Honestly, I just love to see everyone united, just a city united under just this one cause," Beth Lewis, a member of the Wagner College softball team, which ran together in the event, told CBS 2's Vanessa Murdock. "It's such a great thing to see all these people."
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation, created by the Siller family, has raised roughly $40 million over the years.
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