People stood wordless at attention as the famous song played on but the sound of weeping could be heard above the music.
This was mid-September, 2001, just days after the terror attacks and thousands stared at the flag waving above Market Street moments before the start of the Philadelphia Distance Run.
Emotions were running high. This race almost didn’t happen, mainly out of respect for the thousands who died in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
But ultimately it did go off, perhaps one of the first steps in the national healing process.
I remember running toward the Delaware River, my mind not focusing on a finish time but marveling at the quiet strength of my fellow striders.
Seventeen years later, similar thoughts are surfacing in my conscience last Sunday as I participate in the annual Tunnel to Towers run to honor and assist New York’s finest (police), New York’s bravest (firefighters) and America’s best (military).
The journey begins in Brooklyn, passes through the Hugh Carey (formerly Brooklyn Battery) Tunnel and ends at the new World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.
Some 30,000 runners, including hundreds of firefighters in their complete gear set, take on the three-plus-mile event and it’s an experience to behold.
It’s not often one gets to run alongside the heroes a charity activity benefits.
The whoops echoing through the tunnel, the cheers of spectators as the runners emerge and the band playing the theme from “Rocky’’ gives it almost a Philly feel.
And when the multitude gathers at the end to shout out its appreciation, it is truly a goose-bump moment.
One of the people we run with, Michael Connor, says it reminds him of the same feelings he got standing at the base of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge when he prepared to run the 2001 New York City Marathon, less than two months after the attacks.
Some people dropped out of that race, possibly because of security concerns, but Connor was not one of them.
Back in those days there was a battle cry: If we change the way we live, they win.
“When we took the bus to get to the Verrazano Bridge that day, we went right past the site of the World Trade Center and it was still smoldering,’’ Connor recalls.
“The people out on the course were amazing because the marathon was right after 9/11 and it was very uplifting, even after such a tragedy.’’
Four years ago, Mike took his son, Ryan, to run T to T for the first time. Next came his nephew, Luke. This year it was Mike’s daughter, Nicole, who just graduated from Elon College in North Carolina.
The purpose, he says, is to give these young adults a sense of how powerful the movement is to recover from the attacks and why it’s so important.
“For me, it was getting back to how bad it was,’’ Mike explains. “For these kids, these millennials, they can read about it in books but they don’t really remember it like we remember it.
“For Ryan to run it with me, it was really inspirational.’’
At the start in Brooklyn, we stand in the half-mile-long crowd and are watching/listening to videos on projection screens, talking about how homes are being provided to military personnel by national companies like Home Depot.
Everybody, and I mean everybody, cheers. A booming chorus of “USA! USA!’’
And for that one brief shining moment, we are all Americans again. No red state/blue state. No old/young, no black/white. Just one giant body of people gathered together for a common cause.
“The country is so divided right now with politics,’’ Mike points out. “Everybody, for one day, is centered on the United States. . .that it’s the best country in the world. And we’re not at odds with each other.
“And it’s unfortunate that it takes a sports event to bring this back but that’s the way it usually works anyway.
“To see those amputees running out there, to see all the West Point cadets lined up, it makes you realize how great America is and what a gift we have – freedom – and how we take it for granted.’’
On this day, it’s a chance to show that gratitude. A day to remind ourselves what we can achieve when we stand united.
Josie Kerr-Gleave 5K, 9:15 a.m., Langhorne. Contact www.runsignup.com
Newtown Library 5K, 9 a.m., Newtown. Contact www.active.com