At 6 a.m., the blaring sound of my alarm clock forced me out of bed. Irritated and exhausted, I threw on my running clothes, put my hair in a ponytail and walked sluggishly down the stairs.
It was a Sunday morning, so why was I awake before noon? And why was I awake to run a 5K of all things?
But as soon as the tips of my sneakers made contact with the start line, everything came into focus. The racers surrounding me — men and women clad in bulky fire-fighter gear or military uniforms, children carrying American flags bigger than their bodies — made me realize the magnitude of what we were all about to do.
New York City firefighter Stephen Siller had just finished his shift on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when he heard over his scanner that the World Trade Center towers had been attacked. He immediately sprang into action.
Siller raced to the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, linking the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan, only to find it closed off for security reasons. Since he couldn’t drive through the tunnel to get to the towers, he quickly strapped on 60 pounds of firefighter gear and made his way to the victims on foot.
At that moment, Siller was faced with a decision, and he chose to sacrifice his life in order to save the lives of others. Siller was one of twelve members of Brooklyn Squad 1 who perished in the attacks, leaving behind a wife and five children.
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation was established in Siller’s honor. Today, the organization builds homes for injured service members and supports the families of first responders who lost their lives serving New York citizens.
On Sept. 24, I was fortunate enough to participate in the Tunnel to Towers Foundation’s annual New York City 5K Run and Walk to raise money for its programs.
35,000 people traced the route that one fearless man took to reach the victims on Sept. 11. When we exited the tunnel, we were met with lines of Cadets proudly holding banners of the servicemen who perished in the attacks, offering high fives of encouragement to those who were honoring them. The new World Trade Center stood magnificently in the horizon, welcoming the racers as they sprinted across the finish line, standing tall as a symbol of our country’s strength and resilience.
It was an image that will remain etched in my memory forever. For the first time in my life, I was a part of something greater than myself.
What made this experience so special, in addition to the money we raised for an important cause, were the people who came together to make it happen. Thousands of people from across the country traveled to New York City that day with one mission: to honor the lives of those who sacrificed theirs.
I never truly understood what it meant to live for a larger purpose. I always heard that it was important to look within yourself and find a purpose, but I had never known what mine was or if I would ever realize it. It was a confounding notion — a sort of enigma that could not be untangled. I now recognize that living for a greater purpose is a simple concept.
Living for a larger purpose means selflessness.
We must be able to look beyond our own material needs, comforts and desires. We must show compassion to one another and recognize the beauty in working together to achieve a combined whole that is greater than all of our separate parts.
Your purpose may be one big thing or a million little things. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. Everyone, as small and insignificant as we are on this earth, has the ability to make an impact.
So when given the opportunity to contribute to something that goes beyond your own needs, take it.
Whatever you choose to do, whether it’s digging water wells in Africa, running a charitable 5K or simply offering a hand to someone in need, you’re living for a purpose greater than yourself.
Madison Schmitt, ’20, is an associate sports editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]