Hundreds of people of all ages gathered Friday evening to honor the heroes of 9/11 by participating in the annual Tunnel to Towers 5K Run and Walk.

The event happens in cities across the country each year and was created to honor the memory and legacy of New York City Firefighter Stephen Siller.

Siller had just finished his shift on Sept. 11, 2001, when he heard that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He immediately headed back to his station in Brooklyn but found the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel already closed. He strapped on his 60 pounds of gear and ran through the tunnel on foot to reach the scene, where he died in the line of duty.

The Tunnel to Towers Foundation uses proceeds from the races along with other fundraisers and donations to build smart homes for catastrophically injured veterans.

Retired Lexington County Firefighter Tony Signorino served as master of ceremonies Friday and has been one of the organizers of the Columbia race since its inception. Asked what keeps him and the other organizers coming back year after year, he answered with just one word: “Passion.”

“Everybody on the committee is either fire, police, EMS, or in the military, and we just have a passion for what we do,” he added. “It's just a pleasure to watch these smiling faces every single year. It keeps us coming back.”

More than 250 volunteers worked Friday to help make the race a success in a wide variety of roles, including helping with registration, staffing water stations and holding 343 poster-sized signs along the race course, each with a photograph of one of the 343 first responders who gave their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

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