Freedom Alliance scholarship recipient Courtney Horrigan, of Austin, Texas, stepped off her plane brimming with excitement to be in New York City for the annual Tunnel to Towers Run. Courtney was joined by her running partner and fellow scholarship student Kate James from Warrenton, Virginia.
Kate and Courtney first met at the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund Retreat back in June; having formed an instant friendship over the summer, the girls were happy to be reunited for the weekend of the race.
After settling into the Marriott East Side on Friday afternoon, they joined Freedom Alliance team members for a night out on the town, which included Times Square window-shopping and a trip to the top of the Empire State Building.
On Saturday morning, we hooked up with James Smythe of My Kind of Town Tours for a guided visit of all the distinction and brilliance that New York has to offer. James has worked with Freedom Alliance several times in the past, and we’ve yet to see the same tour of the city!
After freshening up, Courtney and Kate and the rest headed to Little Italy, for dinner at Angelo’s with some of our favorite New Yorkers, Frank and Joyce Casano and their friends.
It was a 6 a.m. wake-up on Sunday to get to the race start in Brooklyn. Amongst the 30,000 runners in attendance, we saw firefighter squads from all over the country (even one brigade from London) and military service members, as well as some Freedom Alliance friends from Walter Reed.
The girls wore Freedom Alliance T-shirts made in memory of their fathers. Courtney’s father, Master Sergeant Robert Horrigan, was killed on June 17, 2005, in Al Qaim, Iraq, during a raid on a building harboring known enemies. Kate’s father, USMC Major Brian James, was lost in the 1992 crash of the V-22 Osprey aircraft.
The raceway took us through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, which was the route firefighter Stephen Siller ran eleven years ago on his way to give his life to help others. September 11, 2001, Stephen had just worked the late shift at Squad 1, when he called his wife to say he was needed; unable to drive into Manhattan, he abandoned his truck at the tunnel and ran on foot with 60 pounds of gear to the crumbling Twin Towers.
Marisa Gerdano, our program officer, describes the scene at the finish line: “It was difficult not to be overwhelmed to tears as we exited the tunnel to shouts of encouragement and high-fives from onlookers, West Point cadets, and members of the FDNY, each holding up a large photo of one of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11.”
At the conclusion of the run, Courtney was welcomed to the stage to receive the Freedom Alliance Award from the Siller Foundation. Before a crowd of thousands and standing next to former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, she accepted the award on behalf of her family’s sacrifice. We at Freedom Alliance are so proud of this very poised, exceptional young woman.
In the VIP tent afterward, Courtney and Kate were welcomed by actor Gary Sinise, and we all enjoyed the post-race ceremony. It was an altogether emotional and inspirational event—a memorial of our national tragedy, but also a reminder of our collective strength and valor.
As Marisa said, “Though 9/11 was a devastating blow to our country, we are a resilient people, blessed to have the finest military, police, and firefighters in the world, who fight hard every single day and sacrifice so much to keep us safe.”
It was an unforgettable tribute to our everyday heroes, and we were delighted to share the experience with Kate and Courtney.