OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Saturday's Second Annual Tunnel to Towers 5k run honored the life of New York Firefighter Stephen Siller, who died on 9/11 while trying to save lives.
It was meant for people like Ellie Gautreaux of Woolmarket and her brother Jerry; pint-sized dynamos who happen to have spina biffida. Just like Siller, they are strong. And unstoppable.
"She's very spunky, energetic, and I love that she lets absolutely nothing get in her way," said Ellie Nelson, her support runner for the event. "She's just like you and I. She just does things in a different way."
The event was made for Nelson, too. She's a firefighter, and flew all the way from Wisconsin just to be involved.
The two Ellies were paired through the organization to help special needs children and adults, I Run 4. They've been in contact for nine months through social media, and it was their first face-to-face meeting.
"She's been my inspiration and has changed my life for the better since she's came into my life," said Nelson.
It also meant a lot to Ellie's mother, Aimee.
"I already see my children as heroes and inspirations to people and I already see them as superstars," Aimee said. "But to have somebody else, especially a stranger who never knew us before, see the potential and be, not only to see how good Ellie is, but to be inspired by her and help motivate her run is more than words can ever be put to."
The run attracted more than 200 registrations, nearly doubling the number from the previous year.
The race began at Fort Maurepas in Ocean Springs, went over the Ocean Springs-Biloxi bridge, and ended at Margaritaville to a big greeting.
Organized by Bridgett Lopez, Stephen's brother George Siller was a special guest.
"I've seen every one of these runs start out small and grow bigger and bigger," George said. "I love them because they're Americana to me. They're true people - true patriots that really love this country and truly don't forget."
Proceeds from the event go to help the foundation build smart homes for injured service members mortgage free.