2nd annual Tunnel to Towers 5K race to be held Saturday

For Alpena County Sheriff Steve Kieliszewski, last year’s Tunnel to Towers 5K race in Alpena was an emotional experience.

In the midst of running, Kieliszewski saw photos of law enforcement officials and first responders who died during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and he had to slow his pace.

“That hit me out of all the spots. When I saw that, I slowed down,” Kieliszewski said. “That’s exactly what I did. I (decided) I’m going to honor every one of these people and look at every one of these photos.”

Kieliszewski wasn’t alone in his emotion. Many of the runners slowed down to look at the photos- which were posted at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and at the Bay View Park Band Shell-and more than 500 people participated in the race.

The reception to the inaugural race set the wheels in motion for another race, which will be held beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

It went extremely well. It was great, absolutely fabulous,” race organizer Sharon Cole said. “It was the biggest 5K in Alpena and people just love it. They loved the 343 Memorial. They loved the firemen running in their full gear.”

Cole said about 400 people are expected to participate in Saturday’s race and though there will be fewer participants than last year, local interest in the race has increased.

“Now that everybody knows what it’s about, it’s very well supported,” Cole said. “(Last year) there were a lot of people who said, ‘I had no idea you were doing this, I had no idea what this was about.'”

Interest in Michigan has increased as well. A Tunnel to Towers 5K will also take place in Berkley on Saturday and another race was held in Jackson in May.

Saturday’s begins and ends at the Band Shell. Once the race begins, runners will run down State Avenue to Prentiss Street to Second Avenue and across the bridge there. Runners will continue behind the sanctuary and loops around with runners running on the Alpena break wall before ending up back at the band shell.

The inaugural race came to be after Cole found a letter from the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation during a board meeting. The foundation builds homes for catastrophically injured service members through its Building for America’s Bravest program and proceeds from Saturday’s race will go to the foundation.

Last June, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ben Eberle was ushered into his new home in Alpena built by the foundation as the first home of this kind in Michigan.

The races are held nationwide and involve running and walking like a traditional 5K. But a Tunnel to Towers 5K often sees firefighters running the race in full gear and local law enforcement agencies often participate as well.

Kieliszewski plans to participate again this year and was impressed by the firefighters he saw running in last year’s race.

“When I saw some of the firefighters in their full gear and the times they were running, they put me to shame,” Kieliszewski said with a laugh.

This year, firefighters running in the race in full gear will start three minutes ahead of everyone else in an attempt to avoid race congestion.

The race also features a 343 Memorial, a memorial of photos which honors first responders who died during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. This includes Stephen Siller, a New York firefighter who died that day and who the race is named for.

Many area businesses and organizations will be on hand for the festivities. The Exchange Club will hand out American flags and the Lions Club of Alpena will sign people up for organ donation. There will also be face painting, a children’s workshop, an inflatable obstacle course, a silent auction and raffles among other activities. Michigan country-rock band Gunnar and The Grizzly Boys will provide live entertainment.

Registration will be available online until 48 hours before the event and race day registration will be available beginning at 8 a.m. by the Band Shell. Online registration can be completed at http://bit.ly/2x1e7g4.