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The Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk is coming to Apple Valley for the first time on June 29.

Event honors fallen firefighter who died during Sept. 11 attacks

A race started in New York in honor of a firefighter who died responding to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is coming to Apple Valley.

The first Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk Twin Cities is set for 9 a.m. Saturday, June 29, at Apple Valley High School, 14450 Hayes Road in Apple Valley.

The proceeds benefit the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a nonprofit that builds mortgage-free smart homes for catastrophically injured military service members; supports families of fallen law enforcement, firefighters and emergency workers and provides mortgage-free homes to surviving spouses of fallen military members with children.

The nonprofit also has a mission to honor “the sacrifice of firefighter Stephen Siller who laid down his life to save others on September 11, 2001,” according to its website.

The first Tunnel to Towers 5K was started in 2002 in New York with 1,500 people. Now, over 50 Tunnel to Towers races and tower climbs are held around the country.

“They’re all part of honoring the first responders like Stephen Siller who do what he did every day,” said Liz Curtis of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.

According to the foundation, Siller was the youngest of seven children. His father died when he was 8 years old and his mother died a year and a half later, leaving him to be raised by his older siblings.

Siller went on to become a firefighter and was assigned to Brooklyn’s Squad 1. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was off the clock and on his way to play golf with his brothers.

He heard the news on his scanner of a plane hitting the World Trade Center’s North Tower and called his wife, Sally, asking her to tell his brothers he would catch up with them later.

He went back to Squad 1 to get his gear and drove his truck to the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, which had been closed for security reasons. He strapped on 60 pounds of gear and ran on foot through the tunnel to the Twin Towers, where he died while helping others. Siller was 34 years old and a father of five, the foundation’s website states.

Curtis said the Twin Cities 5K is being organized by Burnsville resident Kate Backstrom. Backstrom had seen the foundation’s Sept. 11 exhibit when it came to Minnesota and contacted the foundation in late 2018 about starting a Tunnel to Towers event in the Twin Cities.

“All of our events are completely organized and run by volunteers,” Curtis said.

The Apple Valley event will include a brief ceremony followed by the walk/run. Most Tunnel to Towers races have participation from firefighters donned in their full gear. There will also be awards handed out, Curtis said.

Curtis said while the fundraising is appreciated, the foundation believes it’s equally important to remember Sept. 11 and the first responders.

“We’re just grateful to be in the community and we hope it will be something that grows from year to year,” she said. “We try to get a lot of kids involved because there are so many children who were very young on 9/11 or not even born on it. It’s our mission to remember that day, not just the first responders, but all the impact it had on our country.”

Community members can register online for the race at www.crowdrise.com/t2tTwinCities2019 until noon Friday, June 28. Same-day registrations will be accepted starting at 7 a.m. June 29. For more information, email twincities@tunnel2towers.org or visit tunnel2towers.org and www.facebook.com/T2TTwinCities.

Patty Dexter can be reached at patty.dexter@ecm-inc.com.

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