9/11 Shamrock fundraiser honors a beloved brother Donald Robertson

Andrew Goudsward, Asbury Park Press

From tragedy to tribute.

That’s how Kathy Cunningham of Spring Lake describes her yearly pilgrimage to New York to run in the “Tunnel to Towers Run” from Brooklyn to Ground Zero.

Cunningham’s brother Donald Robertson was killed in the September 11 attacks while working in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He was 35 years old.

“He was the life of the party,” Cunningham said, “He lit up every room he walked into.”

Photo courtesy of Steve Lacko

Photo courtesy of Steve Lacko

In the years since, Cunningham has worked to keep his memory alive and give back to the soldiers who went to war because of that awful day.  Each September 30,000 people attend the “Tunnel To Towers Run” to retrace the final steps of Stephen Siller, a New York firefighter who raced through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel to get the World Trade Center site on September 11.

Last year, 300 of these runners wore bright green shirts with a shamrock encased in a heart on the back. Around the shamrock was the name “Donald W. Robertson” and the words “Forever in our Hearts.”

These runners are members of “Team Shamrock,” named for Robertson’s love of his Irish heritage and the tattoo that was imprinted on his hip. The team is the largest annual contingent to the race and was founded by Kathy Cunningham.

Cunningham started going to the run in 2005, but only took her first team of 50 friends and family with her four years ago. Since its founding, the team has exploded in size to 300 green-clad volunteers.

“It took on a life of its own,” Cunningham said, “People don’t forget 9/11 and they want to do good.”

The team works throughout the summer to raise funds, last year they collected around $150,000. This year Cunningham hopes to get to $200,000. Team Shamrock’s summer kickoff fundraiser is tomorrow night at Bar Anticipation in Lake Como. Tickets are $20 and there will be barbeque as well as live music by the Billy Lawlor Band.

The money raised goes to Tunnel to Towers’ “Building for America’s Bravest” program, which constructs smart homes for soldiers catastrophically injured in war.

The homes are custom made with the goal of enabling injured veterans to retain some quality of life. The homes have amenities like automated doors and lights, as well as lowered sinks, cabinets and counters for those in wheelchairs.

“A lot of these young men went to war because of 9/11 so it means a lot to be able to give back to them,” Cunningham said.

Once Team Shamrock raises $500,000, the cost to build one smart home, one service member will live in a home named after Donald Robertson.

Cunningham said helping out with Tunnel to Towers has been healing.

“I can never bring my brother back, but his name is on all the shirts and his memory is definitely alive,” she said. “He would have done the same thing for me.”

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