Posted by: sonewjersey | March 24, 2011

Lincoln Tunnel Challenge 5K Celebrates 25 Years: A Look Back by Tom Kaminski

 Guest Blogger Tom Kaminski has been a helicopter traffic reporter for WCBS 880 since 1988 and is also their Managing Editor of Traffic and Transit.  He has been involved with the Lincoln Tunnel Challenge 5K since its inception in 1986. Follow Tom on Twitter http://twitter.com/TomKaminskiWCBS 

 

 

Humble Beginnings

In 1986, I was a producer at Shadow Traffic, the clearinghouse for traffic info for radio stations across the Tri-State area. As director of information, it was my job to keep good contacts with police and other agencies to get the most accurate info we could receive. At a meeting with the Port Authority Police at the Lincoln Tunnel, I was told about a new charity event for Special Olympics: a race through the Lincoln Tunnel. Just the thought of it intrigued me. How many people would actually DO this? I was happy to support Special Olympics, and my involvement would certainly look good to the Port Authority Police, which might translate into extra traffic information for my employer. I was in.

As it did for at least the first 10 years, the race began at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, went to the NJ side and turned around for a finish on the Manhattan side at Dyer Avenue and 40th Street. I persuaded a number of people from Shadow, including my good friend Bob Williams, to be involved on that first Sunday morning. My job was to fill cups at the water station on the NJ side. I did that by dunking them into a 50-gallon drum of water and lining them up on a table. The race began in Manhattan, and we waited across the river. And waited. And waited, until the first guy came out of the tunnel toward us. We were so happy to see him, we practically used every drop of water we had on him. But then more and more people came thru, and by our best recollections about 150-200 participated. We had such a good time, I knew I’d be back.

I made the move to WCBS in 1988 and brought my participation in the race along with me. Over the next few years, my responsibilities would grow, to being a co-host of the event with Bob Williams, to providing music, to relentlessly promoting the race in-house at the radio station and finally on the air on WCBS 880. The crowds grew, but slowly. We eventually moved the start and finish lines and awards area to the NJ side, but still the crowds numbered around 400. The thing that would eventually transform the Lincoln Tunnel Challenge would be the event that also transformed our world forever.

Now What?

The attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 took the lives of 37 men and women of the Port Authority Police. One of those was John Skala, a good cop who volunteered his time and effort every year to help us, especially when his arm was twisted to do so by his best friend (and our race director) Det. Larry Mays. Larry is blessed to be one of those guys to whom you just can’t say “no”. That’s probably because if you ever need help, he’d never say “no” to you.

The entire Tri-State area struggled to put its collective life together over the next few months after the attack. In January, 2002, the race committee gathered in a Port Authority conference room at the Lincoln Tunnel Administration Building. It was our first planning meeting for the ’02 race. To say it was charged with emotion doesn’t even begin to tell the story. Larry Mays was there, having made his way up from his new post at Ground Zero. We all shared hugs and tears, and then started the meeting.  We all looked at each other across this conference table, and said, “What the hell do we do now?”

We weren’t sure if security measures would even allow us to hold this event. And if we did, we weren’t sure anyone would be brave enough to participate. But we thought about the Special Olympics athletes for whom we were doing this, and we came to a conclusion: Our athletes persevere every day, so the least we can do is persevere as well. Everything we did had to be changed, from security to layout to promotion, but we would go forward.

On the morning of the 2002 race, I have to admit I was scared out of my mind (which I think Larry noticed). We had about 400 runners the year before. On this morning in 2002, nearly a thousand showed up, in some of the heaviest rain we had ever seen. Our t-shirt that year featured a red, white and blue ribbon, and a single silhouetted runner; the bib number on his chest was John Skala’s badge number. I held back tears reading the names of the 37 PA police officers killed on 9/11, and when I was finished I heard one of the loudest cheers I’ve ever heard in my life. The subsequent years have shown that this event has literally risen from the ashes of tragedy. Last year our participants numbered nearly 3,500. Who knows what this year will bring!

To learn more about the Lincoln Tunnel Challenge 5K and how you can participate or support a participant, visit www.LTC5K.org. The event is limited to the first 3,500 runners.

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