Derek Garcia stood on his tippy-toes screaming, “Where’s Papa?”
“I want to run with him,” the 3-year-old said.
Derek’s father, Nelson Garcia, who is in Miami’s fire academy, was one of more than 1,000 firefighters, police offers, military members and civilians who took over downtown Miami Sunday night for the Miami Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk to benefit the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.
Sunday was the first time the race — which is held across the country to mark Sept. 11 — was held in Miami-Dade County.
Miami-Dade firefighter Lourdes Sanchez-Breton, who has participated in similar races, said she wanted to bring the race to Miami-Dade to bring everyone together for a good cause.
The run honors Stephen Siller, a New York firefighter who died on Sept. 11, 2001. It was Siller’s day off and he was on his way to play golf when he saw the call that the first tower of the World Trade Center was hit. He tried to drive to into Manhattan, but was blocked from entering the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. So he donned his 60 pounds of gear and ran through the tunnel to the Twin Towers. He ended up losing his life that day.
“We are here to honor Stephen’s sacrifice and raise awareness of what we do every day,” Sanchez-Breton said. “When we are all here together, I don’t see a badge or a uniform, I see a brother or sister.”
The run/walk aims to retrace Siller’s steps. The pack started at the entrance of the PortMiami tunnel and made its way over the causeway to Bayfront Park. Some then embarked on a 39-floor climb.
Coral Gables Lt. Jason Barger was among the first to finish.
“This reminds everyone of what we do every day,” said Barger, who was hot and tired from lugging nearly 50 pounds of gear up the stairs.
Family members and friends waited at the finish line for those who participated.
Garcia and his academy class — who were all in their firefighter bunker gear — jogged the home stretch together holding an American flag.
“Papa, Papa,” Derek screamed as he ran into his tired dad’s arms. “Good job.”