Tunnel to Towers race in Ripley to honor military and first responders


Sometimes a simple, mundane event can trigger an idea that comes to life on its own.

That’s what happened in 2019 when Sophia Wigal was watching TV and an ad started playing.

“It immediately caught my attention because it was about veterans who had catastrophically lost limbs,” she said.

This ad was about the Tunnel to Towers Foundation and the inspiring story that led to its creation.

The Foundation’s story touched Sophia’s heart. Formed in memory of Stephen Siller, a firefighter who died on September 11, 2001, the organization’s mission is to honor our service members and first responders who continue to make the ultimate sacrifice of life and limb for our country .’

Siller, a New York firefighter, had just finished his shift when he heard about the attacks on the towers. Grabbing his gear, he drove his truck until he found himself blocked from passing through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel which had been closed for safety reasons. Siller then strapped on 60 pounds of gear and walked through the tunnel to the Twin Towers. He died saving others.

In the ad, the Foundation asked viewers to donate $11 per month to support programs for those injured in the line of duty. One of the main fundraising events was also highlighted, the ‘Tunnel to Towers 5km Run and Walk’.

Sophia’s mother, Kim, said her daughter turned to her and said, “We can do more than $11. Mom, I want to run a race.

The Wigals called the Tunnel to Towers Foundation in New York. Although receptive to a race in West Virginia, due to the health pandemic it had to be virtual.

“We just didn’t think we could do this on our first try,” Sophia said. “It was disappointing, but their encouragement gave me hope for a possible race in the future.”

Fast forward to 2021 and Sophia, now 15, saw the commercial again. And once again, the call was made to national headquarters. Because it was September and the Foundation was in the process of organizing the annual memorial run on the anniversary of 9/11, the Wigals had to wait a month for advice.

“In the meantime, we’ve reached out to Mayor Carolyn Rader to see if the town of Ripley would be willing to be a race location if we could work out the details,” Sophia said. “Of course, she was extremely supportive and enthusiastic.”

Sophia said the Foundation was equally supportive and enthusiastic.

“They were very excited to have the race held in West Virginia for the very first time,” she said.

The Foundation’s Jennifer McGurk was assigned as a “coach” to help guide the Wigals through the setup and other details. She provided a schedule to get everything ready, helped find the company to time the race, and answered many questions that arose.

“I think she’s also planning on coming to Ripley for the race,” Sophia said.

Race day is Saturday, April 9, starting at 8 a.m. with an opening ceremony in Courthouse Square. The route will take runners and walkers through clearly marked streets and avenues, ending at the courthouse.

One of the keynote speakers will be Lezlee Armes. The widow of a Nelsonville, Ohio firefighter who died in the line of duty, she was the recipient of the Fallen First Responder Home Program. This program is intended to pay off the mortgage on the home of deceased first responders who leave behind young children.

Sophia says she hopes many local and area firefighters, police, first responders and military will attend the event.

“This race is to honor them all,” she said. “We really hope the kids will run alongside these heroes.”

For Sophia, who wasn’t even born when 9/11 happened, it’s important that people remember the sacrifices of that time.

“My mom and dad raised me and my brother to love our country and serve others,” she said. “Actually, my brother is in the National Guard. We have a history of military service in our family. My great-uncle, General John Craddock, was a four-star general.

The Wigals are confident that funds raised through registrations and sponsorship will be put to good use by the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. Of every dollar raised, 95% goes to programs, 3% to fundraising efforts, and 2% to administration.

“That money raised from the Ripley run will go to the national organization,” Kim said. “It will be used wherever needed and we pray it will never be there.”

Mayor Rader gets emotional when talking about the young woman who was the driving force behind the first-ever race in West Virginia.

“She put Ripley on the map,” she said. “I am so impressed with his dedication and maturity. Honoring our first responders and veterans in this way makes me so proud of Sophia and our city. »

The only way Sophia responds to this type of praise is with humility.

“I don’t really think it’s something I accomplished,” she said. “We have such a great team helping to organize this. Chandra Eden, Steve Sisson, Debbie Sisson, Mike Smith, the mayor, my mom and dad make the best team.

More importantly, Sophia says she keeps the Foundation’s motto at the forefront of her mind.

“While we have time, do good,” she said. “It’s a wonderful goal to have.” To register for the 5K run and walk or to donate, visit www.T2T.org/Ripley.


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