Tunnel to Towers: Reflections on a Day of Giving Back


If you are lucky, your client work is not only memorable but also honorable and good. On September 28, I was reminded of how lucky I am when I joined our client Carpet One to participate in the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation 5K Run and Walk in New York.

The 5K run/walk event honors the memory of Stephen Siller, a New York firefighter who perished when the World Trade Center collapsed during the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. On the morning of September 11, Siller had finished his shift in Manhattan and was returning to his Brooklyn home when the first plane struck the World Trade Center. Instinctively, he strapped on his gear and ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel back to the Twin Towers to help in the rescue effort. He was one of the 343 members of the New York City Fire Department who died that day.

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation honors his memory in a number of ways. For instance, the foundation’s Building America’s Bravest program builds homes for U.S. veterans who have been injured seriously defending the United States in armed conflict. The 5K run/walk honors the sacrifice of the New York City Fire Department and veterans and also raises money for the foundation’s activities. Our client Carpet One is a strong supporter of the foundation. Not only does Carpet One provide floor products free of charge to Building America’s Bravest, the retailer also raises money by participating in the 5K run/walk. On September 28, approximately 50 Carpet One employees participated in the 5K run/walk either as participants or as volunteers organizing and managing the event. I got a small taste of Carpet One’s efforts by running in the race and raising money for the foundation through my own participation.

The morning of September 28 was both emotional and beautiful. At 6:30, I met with my friends from Carpet One in Manhattan at a meeting point about a block away from Ground Zero. The weather was stunning: the blue sky was cloud free, and the air felt like a mix of autumn and lingering summer. Along with thousands of other participants, our party walked to Pier 11 in lower Manhattan, boarded a water taxi for a brief ride to Brooklyn, and converged on the starting line by 8:00 a.m. Already, the day had delivered some unforgettable moments, such as the sun rising over the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline during our water taxi ride.

More unforgettable moments would follow, such as the opening ceremonies, which conveyed a festive mood whose tone was a marked departure from the somberness that had characterized our nation’s mood when we remembered September 11 in the early 2000s. The passage of time had given us enough perspective to allow for some celebration of our heroes. I experienced a range of emotions during the run itself. I smiled when New York State Senator Chuck Schumer gave me a high-five as I ran past him at the start of the race and then felt reflective as I ran with 30,000 others through the dark, narrow Brooklyn Battery Tunnel that Stephen Siller had navigated wearing much bulkier and heavier clothing than I was wearing. Then, emerging from the tunnel, I was suddenly three blocks from Ground Zero. It is difficult to describe the mixture of awe and humility you feel as you set your eyes on the new Freedom Tower soaring before you, and then glance at the firefighters lining the parade route, holding photos of firefighters who died on September 11 as well as soldiers who have sacrificed their lives abroad. Yes, I was humbled, but I was also happy to support my client.

I managed to complete the entire race in 26 minutes. I finished in 110th place, and, to be sure, the competitive part of me was happy that I had performed well. (You just do not shut off that runner’s instinct even in a charity event as this one.) But, more importantly, I was honored to help my client participate in something important. The street party that closed the event (hosted by Joe Piscopo) felt like a moment earned.

You, too, can support the Tunnel to Towers Foundation (its website shows you how you can contribute). If you cannot make it to New York for the 2015 run/walk, be aware that other cities also hold their own run/walk events (see the website for more information). I am fortunate to support a client like Carpet One in such an important undertaking. I look forward to doing it again next year.

This post was originally published on the One Smooth Stone blog on October 2, 2014. For a complimentary 30-minute consultation on how to build your brand and inspire an audience through events and communications, please contact Brian Duffy by calling 630.427.4235 or by emailing bduffy@onesmoothstone.com


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