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UB team brings second Tunnel to Towers 5K event to Buffalo

Austin Byrd, annual giving fellow in the Division of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement and a volunteer firefighter with Cheektowaga Rescue Hose #1, ran the 2016 Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk Buffalo in his firefighting gear. Photo: Shane Phillips

By MICHAEL ANDREI

Published September 1, 2017

“It’s an experiential race … where you run not just to get your best time, but also because it is such a moving experience.”
Mike Belus, systems software programmer
Network and Classroom Services

When Ryan Taughrin came running out of the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel and up into Manhattan’s Battery Park during his first Tunnel to Towers Run, he and three family members, along with thousands of race participants, were hit with an almost overwhelming set of emotions.

“There are bagpipers playing, lines of firefighters, and you see the pictures, in the ‘Honor Line’ along the route, of every single first responder who died in 9/11,” says Taughrin, graduate recruitment officer in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“The backdrop is the Freedom Tower — which was only three quarters built at that time — and the rush you get when you run through all of that was the single most incredible moment I have experienced in a 5K event,” he says.

Taughrin took part in the race in 2012 with his brother, Nicholas; his father, Brian Guy, an application developer with Enterprise Application Services; and his grandfather, Jim Guy, who is now retired from his position as fire and life safety manager for Environment, Health and Safety.

“I had run in the 2011 Tunnel to Towers,” Brian Guy says, “and found it a powerful and amazing experience.

“The race honors Stephen Siller, an FDNY firefighter who lost his life in 9/11,” Guy explains. “He had just gotten off duty, heard about the attack — he was going off to play golf with his brothers — and called his wife, telling her ‘call my brothers and tell them I’ll be late.’

“He returned to his station — back in Brooklyn — grabbed his gear, but the truck was already gone. So he drove to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which had been closed to traffic.”

Guy says Siller pulled on his gear and ran through the two-mile tunnel (now renamed the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel), up to the World Trade Center.

“He died in one of the collapses,” says Guy, who is a volunteer firefighter with East Seneca Fire Co. “Stephen’s family started the Tunnel to Towers Run the next year: You run from Brooklyn through the tunnel to what is now the Freedom Tower site.”

Guy and his father, Jim, who is a volunteer firefighter with South Line Fire Co. in Cheektowaga, have participated in every Tunnel to Towers Run in New York City since 2012.

“The race is in memory of Stephen Siller, but it honors all those who lost their lives in 9/11, our military and first responders, as well. The Siller family is also using proceeds from the event to build accessible homes for severely wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans through a foundation they have created.”

In 2012, Guy began working to bring an annual Tunnel to Towers Run to Buffalo.

“After the race that year, I talked to members of the Siller family and tried to get Buffalo added as a satellite site, but the foundation was not ready for it,” he says.

Mike Belus, a systems software programmer with Network and Classroom Services, ran the Tunnel to Towers race with his fiancé, Christine Babin, in 2015.

“Christine had previously run the race in 2014,” Belus says. “She was focusing on her finishing time, and when she came out of the tunnel — seeing the lines of firefighters and first responders, the streets lined with banners with the 9/11 photos — she was hit with the intensity of what this race is about,” he says.

Spectators line the route of last year's Tunnel to Towers 5K in Buffalo. Photo: Shane Phillips

“It’s an experiential race … where you run not just to get your best time, but also because it is such a moving experience.”

The next year, Belus says he and Babin ran the race together and started talking about bringing the run to Buffalo.

Brian Guy and Babin met through Team RWB, a veterans’ service organization they both belonged to. After sharing their experiences in the Tunnel to Towers Run, they began working together on creating a Buffalo event, and were finally successful in 2016.

“I heard about Tunnel to Towers through the firefighting community,” says Austin Byrd, who is an annual giving fellow in UB’s Division of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement, and a volunteer firefighter with Cheektowaga Rescue Hose #1. “I ran the race the first year it came to Buffalo.”

Taughrin became the team’s volunteer coordinator and worked with UB student groups to staff the event. Byrd began reaching out to the Western New York community, working with businesses in the Buffalo area to get sponsorships for this year’s Tunnel to Towers Run in Buffalo on Sept. 9.

“And he is just crushing them,” Guy says “We have a big list of great sponsors — large companies, small businesses and individuals.

“Mike is our ‘route master’ and makes sure that everything related to the actual route is correct and runs smoothly,” he adds.     

“The funny thing is,” Taughrin says, this UB group — aside from my father, grandfather and I — didn’t know each other from the outset.

“It all came together as we were working individually to try and bring this race to Buffalo. One of the cool things about the five of us is that in addition to all working at UB, we bring different skillsets to help make this race happen here.”

The Tunnel to Towers 5K Run and Walk Buffalo also will be assisting the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation in completing a home for a Western New York Marine Corps veteran who was severely injured in Iraq.

Funds raised from the Tunnel to Towers event in New York City and at the satellite races benefit the foundation’s Building for America’s Bravest program, which has built accessible homes for 36 veterans, Belus says, noting there are 23 more homes in progress, including one in Western New York.

The finish line for the 2016 Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk Buffalo, held at Canalside. Photo: Shane Phillips

“It’s important to remember this event in Buffalo is supporting aid coming from the foundation to help someone here in our region,” he says.

The 2017 Tunnel to Towers 5K Run and Walk Buffalo will begin at 8:45 a.m. Sept. 9 at Bellevue Fire Hall, 511 Como Park Blvd., Cheektowaga. Registration information can be found on the run's Eventbrite page.

UB’s Office of Student Engagement has named the 2017 Tunnel to Towers 5K Run and Walk Buffalo as its site to take part in the September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance. For additional information or to volunteer, visit the event’s UB Calendar page.