BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Tunnel to Towers 5K took to the streets of Buffalo for the first time ever Saturday morning.
The September 11 memorial run happens every year in New York City, but the inaugural event here gave Western New Yorkers the opportunity to remember and honor those who sacrificed their lives 15 years ago tomorrow.
Retired Army Pfc. Matthew Leyva traveled from Syracuse to be among the sea of participants.
He lost both his legs in Afghanistan, but that didn't deter him from completing his first Tunnel to Towers 5K. He will also be a part of the New York City race later this month.
"It's awesome to see all these all these people that are willing to help and to take part in making changes to help veterans and what not” Leyva said. “It’s looking pretty sweet.”
The race honors the first responders who died at Ground Zero. Their faces, their names, their stories, are posted on signs are all along the route. Buffalo's race includes Western New Yorkers.
"There are 22 people from Western New York who died when the towers collapsed,” said Christine Babin. Co-race director. “And we've lost 77 of our military members in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since.”
First responders had a huge presence at this event. Many ran in full gear.
"It's something that they did on the way to the towers as they were going down, and what better way to pay tribute than to try and simulate the same thing they've done and represent our brothers and sisters,” said Jeff Locher, who rain suited up with the East Seneca Fire Company.
After all, the race itself memorializes one of their own. Stephen Siller’s family started this race in his memory. The off-duty firefighter made a heroic choice, and this run symbolizes his determination.
"The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel was closed, and so he strapped on 65 pounds of gear, ran through the tunnel to help everyone, and died when the south tower came down,” explained Babin. “His family took that tragedy, started the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation."
The money raised helps build accessible houses for wounded veterans.
For Locher, the opportunity to participate is especially meaningful.
"We were able to go down as EMS and actually be at Ground Zero, so, for us to do this here this year, it is a big honor for us,” he said. "Fifteen years goes awful quick. Like I said, since we were down there, it doesn't seem like it was that long ago.”