The 2,996 project is all about honoring and celebrating the lives of those innocent people who were murdered on Sept. 11, 2001.
John Paolillo was a Battalion Chief with the NY Fire Dept. - killed in the collapse of the North Tower. But more importantly, John was a loving father, brother, son, uncle and a friend to all.
John lived next door to my sister Marjie in Glen Head, NY. I met John once or twice "over the fence" - saying hi, borrowing sugar, neighborhood get-togethers, that kind of thing. The main thing I remember about him is that he would always be out playing in the yard with his kids Jake and Ella anytime I visited. John was very devoted to his kids, his wife, his mom Elizabeth, brother Joe, sister Sheila and their families.
John was a great athlete who loved to run, bicycle and swim - he competed in triathlons on a regular basis and enjoyed sharing his training philosophy with others. He helped Marjie with her cycling when she was getting ready for the MS 150 Bike Tour and an amateur team triathlon that she took part in. Marjie said John didn't understand the kind of mental blocks that held her back from getting up a hill - he just charged on up, knowing he could do it! The first time Marjie went riding after John's death, she took on the toughest hill in town - and made it up for the first time ever -- because she knew that John was there with her, helping her up the hill with a strong hand on her back.
A few months after John's death, his brother Joe, Joe's wife Josephine, friends Gina and Bob, as well as Marjie and her husband Chip, came together with the idea to hold an event that would not only raise money for a scholarship fund at the local high school, but more importantly, honor John's love of life and athleticism.
The John Paolillo Scholarship Fund Memorial 5K race/fundraiser was held at the Glenwood Landing Fire Station. Hundreds of local friends and families, as well as firefighters from John's old stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, ran or walked the route that included one tough hill, some beautiful scenery, the high school cheerleaders and athletic teams, water stops, and lots of fun.
The commemorative T-shirt from the event demands to know "Did you give it your all?", a question that echoes with John's friends and family. When I attended the 5K in 2003, Joe told the story of going running with John one time and feeling that he could have done better. "Did you give it your all? Did you try so hard you threw up after?" asked John. "Well, yeah," answered Joe. "That's all you can ask of yourself," said John.
More than anything, the Run for Heroes is a celebration that brings together a community and helps to remember a wonderful man who was always ready to help others before himself. John Paolillo was an honorable man who will never be forgotten, nor should the rest of the victims of that terrible day.
Call your family, your friends - all the people that you hold dear - and tell them you love them, spend some time with them and whatever you do, remember to always "Give it your all!"