More than 400 SUNY Maritime College students and staff volunteered to ensure the success of the annual Tunnel to Towers Run to commemorate a firefighter who was killed during the September 11, 2001, rescue operations.
The students contributed 2,777 hours of volunteer work for the race, including placing cones and setting up runners’ corrals to prepare, running in the 5K, and cleaning up after the race was over. The race route from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center.
“The students were really gung-ho, not only because they were together but because of the aura of the day and the feeling that you got that the race was really about honoring the people,” said Gabriella Franco, a junior Marine Transportation major at Maritime. “The best moment was coming out of the tunnel. The NYPD and FDNY were lining the street, holding banners for the people who were lost and they were all cheering us on.”
This was the third year Maritime College students have helped with the run. The first year, a group of about 60 students assisted with the run. Last year, the entire class of freshmen in the regiment of cadets, called mariners under guidance or MUGs, participated.
“We wanted to keep the tradition of the whole class volunteering,” said Franco. “We had MUGs set up who then turned around and ran the race. It’s an incredible experience; you really feel like you’re honoring the people who lost their lives.”
This year, 320 of the college’s 330 MUGs volunteered with the race, in addition to nearly 200 upper-class students, including from the college NROTC unit, and college staff members. Different groups went out Saturday night and throughout Sunday to assist the race organizers prepare and clean up.
Nearly 3,000 people ran in the race to benefit the Stephen Siller Foundation, a private organization that honors the nation’s military and first responders. Siller, a New York City firefighter, was killed during the rescue operations after running in his turn-out gear from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers.
Students from Maritime College got involved with the race because a former student at the college was related to Siller. Students in the college’s regiment of cadets chose to maintain the connection and the freshman regimental students have made the race their class service project ever since.
“I remember coming home from pre-K that day and my mom had on the news while we were waiting for my dad to come home from work on Long Island. We thought we’d be watching cartoons or something but there was nothing on the TV but fire and smoke,” said senior Mechanical Engineering student Tim McKenna, of Farmingdale. “There are a lot of people here who are from the city and Long Island and have family members in the FDNY. The idea of following in Stephen Siller’s last footsteps really means something.”
The regiment of cadets is a disciplined lifestyle program designed to help students learn leadership, discipline and personal accountability. In addition to studying for their degrees, most of the students in the regiment are also working toward a U.S. Coast Guard license, which qualifies them to work onboard commercial vessels. The regiment is not affiliated with the U.S. military.
Across campus, Maritime students actively participate in and organize service projects. Many donate blood; the college was second only to the New York Police Department in the number of pints donated last year. The men’s lacrosse team annually collects and donates thousands of items for Homes for the Brave, a Connecticut-based organization that helps homeless veterans. Other students collect money for St. Baldrick’s childhood cancer research, knit baby hats for the American Heart Association, and collect donations for hurricane victims.