FERNDALE - While some were at home watching the news and others were in church saying prayers, about 220 people gathered near Pioneer Park on Sunday, Sept. 11, to run to remember a day that changed the country and the world.
Runners and walkers alike came together for the Tunnel to Towers 5K in Ferndale, one of many such runs nationwide in honor of New York City firefighter Stephen Siller. Though Siller was off duty when he heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center, he tried to drive to get there and ended up running more than three miles from a tunnel to the Twin Towers to help, while carrying all of his gear.
Several firefighters ran on Sunday with about 60 pounds of gear, in honor of Siller and the more than 340 firefighters who lost their lives on Sept. 11.
“I wanted it to be an authentic race for me, not only to remember 9/11 10 years later, but to remember extraordinary people who did extraordinary things that day,” said Jared Spoelstra, a firefighter EMT for Whatcom County Fire District 7, who carried his gear for the run. “They were called to do their duty that day.”
Ferndale runner Melissa Salhus said Siller’s story gave her chills and she felt honored to be able to give back to people who serve.
“I’m sure everybody remembers where they were on this day 10 years ago,” she said. “Even though I didn’t know anybody who was a firefighter who lost their life, my heart went out to them. I appreciate the chance to feel like I’m doing something good. We’re thankful every day for the work firefighters do.”
Ferndale resident Nadine Thomas agreed that it was a great feeling to get to run alongside so many firefighters and police officers. She also appreciated the cause. Money raised at the event went to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which supports children who have lost a parent and injured firefighters and military personnel. Money will also go to USA Cares, the Ferndale Volunteer Firefighter Association community service fund and to help send two firefighters, including Spoelstra, to New York City to participate in the city’s Tunnel to Towers run this month.
“I felt it was necessary to do this for all the families who lost family members,” Thomas said. “I just thought about all the children that day whose mommy or daddy didn’t come home, and it broke my heart.”
Whatcom County Fire District 7 Lt. John Devenere organized the event and was thankful to the community for the support and the turnout. The event is something he hopes to repeat again next year.
“I think people want to do more than just watch it on the news and remember,” he said of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. “They want to do something meaningful. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”
For him, the run was a way to turn the overwhelming sadness of Sept. 11 into positive energy.
Lummi Island Fire District EMT and RN Becca Swaen is still struck by that positivity - the caring and the sense of togetherness - that swept the country after 9/11.
“In my whole life, I’d never seen our country come together like it did at that time,” Swaen said. “Ten years, 20 years, 100 years - it will not be forgotten.”
Reach Zoe Fraley at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2803.