By Kaitlyn Kanzler The Coast Star
Many people remember specific moments in time. Ask people where they were when President John F. Kennedy was shot and they could tell you. The same can be said of September 11, 2001. It is a day that many people in the country can say where they were at the exact moment they heard about it. Kathy Cunningham, of Spring Lake, is no exception.
Mrs. Cunningham lost her brother, Donald “Donnie” Robertson, Jr., who worked on the 105th floor of the North Tower for Cantor Fitzgerald’s eSpeed division, which is an electronic trading subsidiary, on September 11.
To honor her brother’s memory, as well as others who died that day, Mrs. Cunningham participates in the Tunnel to Towers 5K Run and Walk in New York City, which took place on Sunday, September 29 this year.
TUNNEL TO TOWERS 5K
The Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers Foundation was founded in memory of Stephen Siller, a New York City fireman who died in the September 11 attacks. The run, which is held on the last Sunday in September, traces Mr. Siller’s footsteps as he raced back to the towers after hearing that the World Trade Towers were hit.
According to Mrs. Cunningham, Mr. Siller was unable to get through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel after it had been closed to traffic. Mr. Siller ran with 60 pounds of gear strapped to his back through the tunnel, where he was picked up by a fire truck and given a ride to World Trade Center.
“We trace the footsteps of a hero to Ground Zero,” Mrs. Cunningham said.
Mrs. Cunningham started participating in the Tunnel to Towers 5K seven years ago, fundraising by herself and raising money for the foundation.
“It’s a wonderful organization,” Mrs. Cunningham said. “I can channel my sorrow through the act of doing this and keeping my brother alive.”
The fundraising effort has grown as Mrs. Cunningham has taken the cause to heart. Last year, Team Shamrock, the team started by Mrs. Cunningham to honor her brother, consisted of 60 people and raised $20,000. The team only needed one bus to get to the 5K.
This year, it exploded.
“It was overwhelming. It took on a life of its own,” Mrs. Cunningham said.
Team Shamrock was made up of 240 people, needed four buses to get to the event and raised, as of yesterday, $72,393 this year. And that amount will keep growing, Mrs. Cunningham said.
Mrs. Cunningham received a $4,275 check from the We Care Foundation on Tuesday night to help support the cause.
“There were a lot of green shirts there,” Don Robertson, Sr., Mrs. Cunningham’s father, said. Team Shamrock members wore green shirts to the run.
Mr. Robertson and his wife, Marceé, of Wall Township, said several of their friends and family donated money to Team Shamrock and helped out on the day of the run.
Mrs. Cunningham is still collecting money to give to the foundation.
According to the foundation’s website [www.t2trun.org], Team Shamrock has raised the most money out of the over 30,000 participants.
The money raised will go to build “smart homes” for service men and women who come home with catastrophic injuries.
“It’s not about you,” Mrs. Cunningham said. “It’s about the bigger picture.”
“These kids come back and they’re 25 years old and they need some sense of independence and normality,” Mrs. Cunningham added. “Because their lives will never be normal.”
Actor Gary Sinse, best known for his portrayal of Lt. Dan in “Forrest Gump,” and the Gary Sinse Foundation partnered with the Tunnel to Tower Foundation to build the houses for the severely disabled veterans.
Mrs. Cunningham participated in the race with family, co-workers, and friends, and their families.
“People don’t want to forget,” Mrs. Cunningham said. “They [terrorists] can’t take away our American spirit and desire to do good things. They may have robbed us, but they did not break us.”
“You’re crying and celebrating at the same time,” Carol Taurosa, of Wall, a friend of Mrs. Cunningham’s also participated in the year’s race, said.
Mrs. Cunningham’s brother was only 35 when he was killed on September 11 and left behind a wife and four children in Rumson, similar to Mr. Siller, who left behind a wife and five children.
“This is how I honor him and keep his name and memory alive,” Mrs. Cunningham said. “He would definitely be smiling down on us. He’s with me every step of that run.”
Mr. Robertson said his son was a good man and that he and Mrs. Cunningham were close.
“He would have been right there running with Kathy,” Mr. Robertson said. “He’s still running with her.”
Mrs. Cunningham said that the Tunnel to Towers 5K is life changing.
“It’s gut wrenching,” Mrs. Cunningham said. “You leave there a more patriotic individual.”
“There is no emotion that isn’t felt that day,” Mrs. Taurosa said.
Among the 30,000 participants, wounded warriors participate and West Point cadets could be seen running and chanting “USA.”
“There were so many people,” Mr. Robertson said. “Almost 14,000 West Point cadets ran.”
Mrs. Cunningham’s children all honor their uncle by wearing the number 26 on their athletic jerseys. Mrs. Cunningham said 26 was her brother’s number when he played lacrosse in high school and college.
Mrs. Cunningham said they started a $26 donation trend for her brother’s jersey number.
Many family members honor Donnie Robertson with a shamrock tattoo on their lower back, the same spot his was, which is where Mrs. Cunningham’s team gets it name from.
“Donnie loved his Irish heritage,” Mr. Robertson said. “He always wanted to go to Ireland.”
Mrs. Robertson said she brought her son’s ashes to Ireland to be spread.
“To be able to have something close to my heart and have people jump on — it was an honor to me and my brother and we’re going to keep going,” Mrs. Cunningham said.
According to Mrs. Cunningham, she told the Siller family that Team Shamrock would be back next year with more people and she pledged to raise $100,000.
“Kathy is one of the most positive, inspirational, dedicated, and motivated people,” Mrs. Taurosa said.
Mrs. Cunningham said she plans on having another benefit next March at Bar Anticipation [Bar A] in Lake Como to help raise money for next year’s Tunnel to Tower 5K.
According to Mr. Robertson, Mrs. Cunningham was able to raise around $4,000 at the Bar A event this past year. Mrs. Cunningham also had fundraisers at Houlihan’s, Brick, and J. McLaughlin’s, Spring Lake.
Mrs. Cunningham said The Atlantic Club in Manasquan, where she has worked as a trainer for the past 26 years, provided a lot of support, including creating flyers, signs, and banners and providing food for team members before they departed for New York City.
“This is my home and my family,” Mrs. Cunningham said. “They took my vision and they polished it. Everyone played a part.”
Mrs. Cunningham said everyone was generous in sponsoring the team, including The Atlantic Club, Bar Anticipation and RPM Auto Sales of N.J.
Team Shamrock is still accepting donations for this year.
“It’s never too late to donate to Team Shamrock,” Mrs. Cunningham said. “They can make a difference.”
To donate, visit www.t2trun.org/nyc, click on the teams tab and find Team Shamrock.