Tens of thousands of runners laced up their sneakers Sunday morning to honor the 343 firefighters who died on September 11th and those who worked to save others at the World Trade Center site.
Military veterans, soldiers, cadets and firefighters were among participants who came from around the world for the 11th annual Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers Run.
The event is named for Stephen Siller, a Staten Island firefighter who lost his life on September 11th. Siller was off-duty when, immediately after the attack, he put on 60 pounds of gear and ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers.
His heroism has inspired 75 similar runs across the United States and the globe. Organizers said it is one of the few 9/11-related events that continues to grow.
"We've got to make sure we never forget, and I think by having these runs around the country and around the world, it's doing that," said Frank Siller, Stephen's brother. "And then we want to honor the sacrifice and what better way than bringing these heroes who are here, doing the run this year."
"The story of Stephen's heroism and selfless sacrifice and the story of all the other first responders that day really resonates with something that is innate in all human beings," said Russell Hodge, Siller's cousin.
"You kept hearing over and over that people are starting to forget. We need this to be nationwide so that it is never forgotten," said Gina Kemf, the director of the Vero Beach Tunnel To Towers Run.
Some of the runners traveled Sunday's course in full firefighting gear, and members of the Wounded Warriors organization began the race ahead of the other runners.
"I want to do this for the 343 that lost their lives, my brothers. I want to run it for our U.S. armed forces who are serving overseas and aren't home right now. And just for this country, God bless this country," said Alan Byerly of the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Fla., who ran in a firefighter's uniform.
"I think anybody would come 20,000 miles, anything, to help out such a good cause," said Kama Ortiz, a member of the Honolulu Fire Department, who also came in uniform.
"I've been running this race since it started. It started like 500 people through the tunnel and now it's like 30,000 people," said Amanda Farinacci, NY1's Staten Island borough reporter. "It's grown for me, for my family. Great event, it's an awesome ambience inside the tunnel. It's priceless."
A celebration by the finish line, in the shadow of the new One World Trade Center, included live music and remarks by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
"A tower is only a building. All these people who show up, that's better than the tower," Giuliani said.
To date, the event has raised more than $15 million for various groups including orphans, the "Building For America's Bravest" home construction program and veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I can only speak for myself as a 9/11 family member. How our military protects us and how we feel about them, there are no words," said Sarah Siller, Stephen's widow.
"This explains why you served after 9/11, many people continue to serve," said Tina Atherall, the executive vice president of Hope For The Warriors. "You just can't describe it. You just come through and it puts it all into place."
For more information, visit TunnelToTowersRun.org.