EDISON — For the fourth consecutive year, the Wardlaw-Hartridge girls’ soccer players joined their coaches and a group of former teammates in The Firefighter Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Run in New York City on Sept. 30. This event has become a special tradition for the team, which donated $1,655 to the cause through its participation.
“Every year this race is emotional but this year a few things really hit me,” head coach Jackie MacLean of South Plainfield said. “During the race we saw two veterans that were quad amputees walking the race. They were slow and steady but their perseverance was very inspiring. It makes you really realize what our troops are sacrificing for us. Every year this race gets more and more a teaching opportunity for my girls who were so young when this happened. I like giving them the opportunity to experience this race and the memorial so they can get more of a first hand experience of what this day in history means for Americans.”
This year, the Wardlaw-Hartridge girls expanded the experience to include a trip to the 9/11 Memorial and an overnight stay at The Conrad Hotel. The team departed after its 3-2 victory over Carteret on Saturday, Sept. 29, boarded the Staten Island Ferry and visited the memorial before enjoying dinner at the South Street Seaport. On Sunday, they participated in the run.
“The tunnel to towers run is my favorite part of the season,” junior Mairead Forrest of Parlin said. “It’s one of the most beautiful experiences anyone can be a part of. I run as hard as I can and I never stop because if Steven Siller ran that route in full uniform and gear, I have no excuse to give up. I think I’ll do the Tunnel to Towers run for the rest of my life.”
All of the girls, from freshmen experiencing the event for the first time to seniors who have participated in previous years, couldn’t help being overwhelmed by the emotion of the run and everything it signifies.
“This was my fourth year participating in the Tunnel to Towers Run and it never fails to inspire and motivate me,” senior Stephanie Smyczek of Edison said. “It’s always exciting to be a part of an event that honors those who gave their life trying to save others. Although this was my last Tunnel to Towers Race as a member of the W-H soccer team, it won’t be the last one of my life. I will definitely do it again.”
“I’ve been running it for four years now and the experience is never the same,” Nina Pangan of Colonia said. “It’s incredible how everyone, of every race of every religion, come to together and run for one reason.”
“It was truly an unforgettable experience,” senior Brianna Gutierrez of Metuchen added. “I truly felt as if I was part of a greater cause. The run was so empowering as I saw men and women running with prosthetics or in full fire gear.”
The younger players on the team were still toddlers when the terror attacks hit in 2001. The experience of participating in the Tunnel to Towers Run has given them a new appreciation for its importance.
“This was my first year doing the race and it was very motivating from the people shouting in the tunnel ‘USA’ to seeing both men and women running in full firefighter gear,” Lauren Yates of Piscataway said. “There were even disabled people going through the tunnel.”
“We really bonded as a team and contributed to a great cause,” freshman Alex Garces of North Brunswick added. “Even though I was only 3 when this event occurred, it was a very emotional run, especially seeing people with many amputees running the race. That just made me think that nothing is impossible.”