RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The upcoming week will see the Felician University women's basketball team embark on another intercollegiate season, the 24th in program history. But before they forge ahead, Felician 12th-year head coach Steve Fagan made sure the Golden Falcons paused for a bit during their preseason workouts to take a somber look backward.
For the fifth consecutive year, Felician team members volunteered to assist at the Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers 5K Run and Walk in New York City. The event is held each year on the last Sunday of September and helps raise funds to support military, first responders and Gold Star families.
The Golden Falcons players were part of 8,000-plus volunteers who helped operate a race with more than 10,000 participants.
"Our job was just to encourage the runners," said freshman Tiara Mahorn (Irvington, N.J./Irvington). "But just by being there, we were reminded that so many people died on 9/11 and continue to die to this day defending our country. It's the kind of event that I would never sign up for it on my own, but now that I've done it I would definitely do it again."
The Tunnel To Towers Run is held memory of Siller, an NYC firefighter who was killed during the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. After getting off his shift that morning, Siller heard on his scanner of the first airplane to hit the World Trade Center. He retrieved his gear and drove his truck to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, which was already closed. He then ran, with 60 pounds of gear on his back, from the tunnel to the twin towers, and died while attempting to save others.
The Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers Foundation now exists to honor Siller's sacrifice and that of military and first responders nationwide. The NYC 5K is set up to follow Siller's path on that fateful morning. It begins in the Battery Tunnel, and the finish line is near the Freedom Tower.
"There were people in wheelchairs on the course," Mahorn said. "There were people pushing infants in strollers, people missing limbs, firemen in full gear, and people walking and running with picture frames of their loved ones who had died. It was very emotional."
Another Felician freshman Kiera Dunhill (Perth, Australia/Presbyterian Ladies' College) was raised in Australia. She was struck by the celebratory nature of an event that sprung from something so negative.
"Growing up, we kind of learned about 9/11 as something that happened in another part of the world," Dunhill said. "But at the race, I couldn't help but feel affected by and for the people. I think it made us all appreciate what we have a little bit more."
Team community service has been a hallmark for Fagan's program throughout his 12 seasons in Rutherford. On Oct. 26, the Golden Falcons took on their familiar roles as chaperones and costume contest judges at the Rutherford Ragamuffin Parade. They will hold a holiday food drive at their Dec. 7 home game, and a cancer awareness event is slated for later in the season.
"Coach Fagan wants a positive atmosphere at practice, with all of us encouraging each other," Dunhill said. "These community events go along with that idea. Just like we cheer on each other, we were cheering on the runners that Sunday. Nothing negative."