He was born nearly a decade after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and only knows about the horrors of that day from textbooks and news clips. But Zechariah Cartledge was among the 30,000 runners who proudly took part in the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers race Sunday in honor of fallen 9/11 first responders.
The 9-year-old and his family traveled from Winter Springs, Fla., to New York City to pay tribute to Port Authority Police Officer Walwyn Stuart — who died trying to save victims in the World Trade Center — at the 5K race.
“I really wanted to run with all the first responders because they’re sacrificing their lives,” Zechariah said. “I wanted to do it with them and support them all the way.”
Zechariah has never met Stuart’s family, but if he had the chance, he’d tell his widow how much he appreciates his heroism.
“I’d say her husband was an amazing person,” he said. “He sacrificed his life that day.”
“I know he would love to be able to talk to her and tell her ‘Thank you’ in person,” Zechariah’s father, Chad Cartledge, said.
Cartledge, 33, also ran in the race — which started in Red Hook, Brooklyn, past the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and ended in Lower Manhattan — to support his son.
“The reason this all started was his passion for running,” he said. “And he’s always had a passion for first responders ever since he was a kid. If he saw one on the street, he would go up and thank them for their service.”
The race is named for Brooklyn firefighter Stephen Siller, who on 9/11 ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel (renamed the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel in 2012) with 60 lbs. of gear to save others at the World Trade Center, where he died.
Since January, Zechariah has raised $11,250 for the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which gives financial aid to families of fallen first responders — and said he was excited when he was picked to run in honor of a police officer.
“Once he got the badge and we got home, the first thing he wanted to do is find out who (Stuart) was,” his father said. “He did the research and did a six-page essay on Stuart, Stephen Siller and what happened on 9/11.”
Zechariah — who hopes to one day be a soccer player or an Olympic runner — said he’d love to return to New York but first has to prepare for another Tunnel to Towers race he’ll be running in Clearwater, Fla., in November.
“We’re so proud of him and what he’s done. It’s been an awesome journey,” Chad Cartledge said. “He does it because he wants to give back to first responders. Unfortunately, we live in a day and age where first responders are always put in a negative light and people don’t realize 99.9% of them are good. Every day they’re willing to sacrifice everything they have for all of us.”
At the closing ceremony, NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, foundation CEO Frank Siller and others praised law enforcement officials and the organization’s supporters.
“We make a solemn vow to never forget our heroes, to never forget their families, but that’s not enough,” Monahan said. “Not just to remember them, but to support them, to help them in their time of need and that’s what the Siller Foundation does — it reaches out and supports the families of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
Frank Siller, Stephen’s older brother, told the crowd the day was all about helping the surviving families.