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Budd Bailey’s Running: Siller 5K honors first responders and veterans

Adults looked at the calendar this weekend and asked themselves a simple question.

“Has it really been 15 years since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11?”

Yes, it has. But enough time has gone by since the attacks that everyone currently in elementary or middle school has no recollection of it.

Part of the reason to stage the Stephen Siller 5K Run, which was held in Buffalo on Saturday morning, was to provide an education to young people about what happened on that day.

“I was in college when it happened,” said Christine Babin, the event’s co-director. “I was a freshman, and it was my first time away from home. And it completely freaked me out. I think now, ‘Oh my, it was 15 years ago.’ It does feel like it was yesterday.

“But with the kids today, high schoolers are learning about it in history class. It’s all new to them. There are so many kids that have no idea.”

A variety of fundraising events are held around the country on or around Sept. 11, and one of the biggest is the Tunnel Run in New York. Siller’s story is like so many that are repeated at this time of the year.

“He was off duty, and it was a shift change,” said Brian Guy, the other co-director. “He was heading out to play golf with his brothers. He heard about the attack and turned around and went back to work.”

Siller literally ran through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel – it’s almost two miles long - to get to the World Trade Center. He died there like several others in his profession. Siller’s family, which included a wife and five children, quickly decided to stage a run to benefit injured first responders and military veterans. The race was ready to go in Sept. 2002.

“They had 300 people for that, following the course that Steven ran,” Guy said. “They close the Battery Tunnel - it’s amazing to see the coordination involved in the run. The number of runners eventually went from 300 to 30,000. That includes firemen in full gear. West Point sends 1,000 cadets each year.

“Some of the recipients of our program include injured veterans who do the run. They are triple- and quadruple-amputees. One time, one of the guys was injured by an IED in April, but he got out of the hospital and did the run in September.”

Guy is a volunteer for the East Seneca Fire Company. He went down to New York in 2011 to see the race for himself.

“For the 10th anniversary, I went down with a couple of firemen. It’s an amazing event. It’s the most American event you can do. ... On the right side of the road, current firemen and policemen wear a banner to honor one of those people killed. It’s amazing how many people you have to pass while running. It’s something that is overwhelming.”

Soon Guy had the idea to try to start a similar race in Buffalo. He had to wait in line a bit as the sponsoring foundation grew big enough to handle more events, but Buffalo eventually was picked. About 30 cities now stage either races or stair runs, including Rochester and Albany.

“We hoped we could replicate some of the feeling here in Buffalo,” Babin said.

One of the guests at Saturday’s race here was Matt Leyva. He lost both of his legs and four of his fingers in an explosion in Afghanistan. The road to recovery is a long one and continues. Leyva was a recipient of a “smart house” from the foundation; he’s from Cicero outside of Syracuse.

More than 400 runners had signed up for the race earlier this week. While the final count hadn’t been announced on Saturday afternoon, the event had by any standard a very good turnout for a first-time event.

With one race done, the race directors plan to do it all over again in 2017.

“We got to keep this going,” Babin said. “We’re still at war. It doesn’t impact many lives here, but we’re still blowing up our people. We’ve got more homes to build.

“We made a promise to never forget, and this is part of it.”

Race calendar

• 8 in the Rough Trail Run, 8.7 miles, Sprague Brook Park, Glenwood, 10 a.m. Sunday Sept. 11, 574-0888.

• Scrub Run, 5K, Cazenovia Park, Buffalo, 6:30 p.m., Wednesday Sept. 14, 706-2104.

• Ryan Purcell Memorial 5K, 261 South Legion Dr., Buffalo, 6:30 p.m. Friday, 713-5654.

• Connors Wiener Run 5K, Old Lakeshore Road, Angola-on-the-Lake, 10 a.m. Saturday, 926-2218.

• 4 for the Corps 4 Mile Run, 145 North St., Arcade, 10 a.m. Saturday, 912-8172.

• Niagara Celtic 5K, Krull Park, Olcott, 10 a.m. Sept. 18, 417-2410.

• Shea’s 5K Run, 646 Main St., Buffalo, 11:30 a.m. Sept. 18, 829-1172.

• Williamsville Oktoberfest 5K, Island Park, Williamsville, 12 noon, Sept. 18.

• Tanya’s Trot for Epilepsy, 5K, Skyline Drive, Akron, 2 p.m., Sept. 18, 913-3222.

email: bbailey@buffnews.com

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