As she has done every year since 2012, Laurie Rudnick pulled up her striped socks and put on her Team Vigiano t-shirt, paired with her red, white, and blue tutu. But while the outfit was the same, this year, everything else would be different.
Laurie would typically be preparing for the annual Tunnel to Towers 5k Run & Walk NYC, which takes runners through the then Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to Ground Zero to retrace FDNY Firefighter Stephen Siller’s final steps on 9/11. Each year, her participation honors her cousins, FDNY firefighter John Vigiano II and NYPD detective Joseph Vigiano, who also gave their lives that day. The event typically draws more than 30,000 participants, but was cancelled this year due to citywide COVID-19 restrictions. Participants, like Laurie, were instead encouraged to take part in the Foundation’s newly launched Never Forget Virtual Challenge to honor the 9/11 fallen. And that’s exactly what she did.
In the face of a global pandemic, Laurie was determined to safely get her family and friends together to keep the tradition alive. “Even if we walked around the block 20 times, I vowed that we will do every year, and that we would never forget,” Laurie said.
With sunny and warm weather in the forecast, Laurie gathered her sister, parents, and friends in Eisenhower Park on Long Island and a teammate mapped out their own 5K route.
One thing that was never in question was wearing her annual race outfit, red white and blue regalia from her head to her feet. “When I wear this in the race, it’s expected. At Eisenhower Park on a random Saturday, I was quite the spectacle,”Laurie said.
The members of Team Vigiano weren’t the only ones in the park that morning, there was also a platoon of Marines. “I said look, the Marines are here! It feels like the real run. As we made our way back I heard someone yell my name, and it happened to be my cousin Joe. He was with his platoon doing drills that day,” said Laurie.
Joe, who had run with the team in 2019, recognized his cousin’s outfit and called out to her, making the event even more of a family affair. The signature outfit also helped Laurie share her story with strangers in the park who asked her questions. One person even took a picture. “There is a photo of me with a stranger out there somewhere,” Laurie laughed.
For Laurie, these random encounters are a chance to tell stories about her cousins and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which is helping Gold Star and fallen first responder families and catastrophically injured veterans across the country.
“They have been gone for 19 years. I have a million stories, but that’s all I have left. It’s good to use our cousins’ names and their stories to do good for the people that are still here.”
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation would like to thank Laurie, her family and friends for keeping the promise America made 19 years ago, to Never Forget. You can also help to keep that promise and do good by donating to Tunnel to Towers at t2t.org.