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'I Have a Very Different Life Now,' Injured Vet Says

Tunnel to Tower Run to mark 11th anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks, will benefit Parsippany's Derek McConnell, who lost both his legs in Afghanistan.

Army Spc. Derek McConnell makes his way around Wayne's 9/11 Memorial by steering his wheelchair in a circle.

McConnell lost both of his legs when he stepped on an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Kandahar, Afghanistan in July 2011.

"Everything changed in an instant after those two blasts," McConnell said, choking back tears as he spoke. "I have a very different life now, but if I had to do it all over again, I would. So many people have been affected by hearing my story and I've been affected by hearing theirs."

Some of the proceeds from the second annual Stephen Siller Tunnel to Tower Run on Sept. 9 will be given to McConnell, a 22-year-old from Parsippany. The funds will be used to help make McConnell's home wheelchair compatable.

The rest of the funds will be given to The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports families with active members of the military.

"He's never asked for anything," said Maria Balarin, who, with her son , is organizing the run. "He just needs our support. He's given this country so much."

The Belarins and town officials , the only one in the state. Dozens more will be held in New Jersey this year.

Siller was a New York firefighter who was on his way home from work on 9/11 when the terrorist attacks ocurred. Stuck in traffic, he strapped on 75 pounds of equipment and ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center where he was killed.   

McConnell wants to continue to tell his story. An aspiring writer, McConnell said his life is very different than the one he pictured having. But he insists that’s just fine.

McConnell spent months in the hospital recovering from the blast. He also lost the use of his right arm due to infections.

“No one made me sign the contract. I saved a lot of lives. I think it was the best thing and the worst thing to ever happen to me, really,” McConnell said. “If I can tell others of my story and help them, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

For more information or to register for the run, visit T2Trun.org.

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