By Rudy Brandl, Wardlaw-Hartridge Director of Communications
EDISON – The Wardlaw-Hartridge School girls’ soccer team is enjoying another impressive season, but this group does some very special things off the field as well. For the third consecutive year, the W-H girls joined their coaches and a group of parents and friends in The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Run in New York City.
This event has become a special tradition for the girls and their head coach, Jackie MacLean of South Plainfield, who coordinated a trip that began at 5:30 a.m. in the school parking lot. The team also donated $1,350 to the cause through its participation.
“Every year is inspiring, but I think this year being the 10th anniversary it was amazing to see almost 30,000 people there,” MacLean said. “You certainly spend most of the run with chills listening to the chants or looking at everyone’s T-shirts dedicated to someone. Then you exit the tunnel and you see the faces of all the servicemen and women lost that day and the proud fire fighters holding their pictures. I think the most emotional part is those fire fighters cheering and thanking you as you run by. Certainly, it should be the other way around.”
All of the girls, from freshmen experiencing the event for the first time to seniors who have participated in previous years, can’t help being overwhelmed by the emotion of the run and everything it signifies.
“Running through the tunnel I saw people from Florida, Maryland, and even England all paying respect to those who lost their lives serving their country,” said Jessica Clarke, a senior from Scotch Plains who was running in the race for the third time. “This being my final year running as a W-H student, I really wanted to take the time to absorb all of the events. Throughout the mile-long tunnel, everyone was chanting “USA”. The Tunnel to Towers race never fails to touch me emotionally and I will never forget the scenery as you emerge from the tunnel with all of the proud servicemen wearing banners of those who perished for the United States of America.”
“Running the race for the third year now still has the same effect as the first time,” junior Nina Pangan of Colonia added. “It’s moving and inspiring. Everybody comes together and I think that’s what I love about the race so much. Complete strangers cheering each other on, of every nationality. The most inspiring though, was when a young girl stopped to catch her breath at the end of the tunnel, and a firefighter with a prosthetic leg cheered her on to keep running.”
“This was my first year doing the Tunnel to Towers Run and I am very happy that I was able to participate and complete it with my team,” said Neema Liverpool of Plainfield, one of the freshmen on the team. “It was a very emotional and breathtaking site as fire fighters and military, both men and women, ran 3.1 miles in full gear. This run showed me that no matter what happened or happens, we are one and we will always stand together as a country.”
The run itself is not an easy experience. There are thousands of people moving in a hot tunnel. It can be physically demanding, but the W-H girls have put those obstacles in proper perspective.
“It is just an amazing feeling when you’re gathered with 30,000 other people at the starting line and knowing everyone is here for the same reason. Everyone was there in honor of 9/11 victims and survivors. And, even when I felt sore and wanted to stop running, I know I could not. There was something inside of me that would not let me give up. And every time I thought about all the firefighters, police officers, and other people who risked their lives to save the victims of 9/11, it just made me run harder,” junior Valentina Margiottiello of Colonia said.
“One of the things that motivated me to continue running was when I was inside the tunnel, everyone was clapping and chanting, ‘U.S.A! U.S.A!,’” junior Stephanie Smyczek of Edison said. “This year’s race is one that I will not forget.”
“As we ran through the Battery Tunnel, it was overcrowded and hot, but we knew we couldn’t stop running,” senior Janissa Delzo of Middlesex added. “In the tunnel, the West Point soldiers chanted ‘USA, USA, USA’ and we sped up because we thought of the thousands of firefighters, policemen, and other servicemen who didn’t stop for us on September 11, 2001, so why would we stop? We continued running, and 3.1 miles later, proudly crossed the finish line together.”
Delzo also was running the race for the third time. She had shared her past experiences from the event with her best friend, Lauren Anthony of Middlesex, and told her how it evoked many emotions. Anthony became equally inspired and joined the W-H contingent in this year’s run.
“It was a great feeling running beside everyone, and finishing the steps that Stephen Siller lost his life doing 10 years ago,” Anthony said.
Other members of the school community who are not players on the team joined the run, including assistant coach Brooke Sofield of Edison, students Nick Davis of Union, Haley Needle ’13 of Scotch Plains and Andrea Buitrago ’12 of North Plainfield and Mrs. Kathi Gerhart of Winfield Park, mother of Taylor Gerhart ’14, and her sister, Laura Dziadyk.
“The most memorable part of the day for me was coming out of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, which was a long and hot part of the run, and seeing all the firefighters lined up along the exit of the tunnel holding pictures of the 343 that were lost,” Mrs. Gerhart said. “They were there to cheer on and shake the hands of the participants and say THANK YOU to us when they were the ones who lost so much.”
Tanda Tucker of Bernardsville, an art teacher and cheerleading coach at the school, said she felt goose bumps despite sweating profusely as she made her way through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. It was an emotional experience she will never forget.
“I was surrounded by firefighters from across our nation, members of our armed forces, parents with small children, and 22 of our varsity girls’ soccer players when the echoing chant ‘USA, USA’ filled the tunnel,” Tucker said. “I had to slow down to take it all in. There were 30,000 people running side by side retracing Stephen Stiller’s last steps as he responded 10 years ago to the 9-1-1 call at the Twin Towers. Simply put, I am proud to be an American.”
The team’s participation in the run serves as a lesson on so many levels. It teaches the girls to be united, work hard and be thankful for their freedom.
“As you run through the tunnel you definitely want to stop because it’s hot and crowded but the energy of everyone pushes you through. You hear people start to chant ‘USA, USA, USA’ and somehow your feet move a little quicker,” MacLean said. “These girls show enthusiasm and commitment and I’m proud we do this as a team. I feel it has touched these young ladies.”
“I would like to thank Coach MacLean for taking the initiative to get the girls involved in this event in the first place,” Mrs. Gerhart said. “It is a nice bonding experience and a chance for the girls to understand how significant that day was even though they were probably too young to remember it. I look forward to joining them again next year.”
Connect with NJTODAY.NET
Join NJTODAY.NET's free Email List to receive occasional updates delivered right to your email address!