When Mauriello's sister, Magdelen, called him last Sunday morning and asked if he wanted to participate in the annual Port Authority-Lincoln Tunnel Fun Run for Special Olympics, he was a little hesitant.
"I didn't want to do it at first," Mauriello said. "I was out late the night before. I was tired. But my sister persisted, so I got up to run."
Mauriello had no idea what he was going to experience. He was one of 900 people who made the jaunt through the center tube of the Lincoln Tunnel and back last Sunday, with all the proceeds going to help the New Jersey chapter of Special Olympics.
The good cause was one thing. The special feeling was another.
"It was so exciting," Mauriello said. "I never ran this event before. I got such a huge adrenalin rush entering the tunnel and the crowd chanting, 'USA, USA, USA.' For a brief moment there, I had goose bumps. It really was something special."
For the last 17 years, the Port Authority of New York-New Jersey has joined forces with the Special Olympics to hold the unique event. It's not every day that you get a chance to run through the Lincoln Tunnel, with the only traffic being the pedestrian variety.
"This year, the event was bigger and better than ever," said Susan Higgins, the special events manager for Special Olympics. "We were able to raise $50,000, which is a 20 percent increase. The Port Authority is the founding agency of the event, and they have supported Special Olympics for 20 years. This is just one of the events they run to help us each year, including the Law Enforcement Torch Run. Overall, they raise $1.5 million for the Special Olympics. Without their commitment, we could never reach those numbers."
Higgins said that she was not surprised with the impressive turnout.
"Given the weather and the community support, I was not surprised," Higgins said. "I was very pleased."
Part of the reason that the event was such a success this year was that the organizers encouraged walkers to participate as well. People who wanted to walk through the tunnel were able to.
"We want to encourage the walking to make it a great family event," Higgins said.
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, who served as the race's official starter for the ninth straight year, enjoyed that aspect of the event.
"I can handle the walking," Turner said. "If I did the running, I would need the ambulance right behind me. But having the walk portion encourages more people to participate. I know now that myself and many others will do the walk next year. They're able to raise a lot of money for a very worthy cause and we're happy to help."
Turner said that the township assists in other charitable events, like the Susan G. Komen Foundation Walk for Breast Cancer and the Bike-A-Thon for Multiple Sclerosis, both of which make their way through Weehawken later this year.
Public Safety Director Jeff Welz said that both the Weehawken police and the Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad were on hand to assist with traffic and in case of a medical emergency.
"We have always supported the Port Authority and the Special Olympics with this event," Welz said. "It's a great day, a great event and a great cause. I think with the walk, they will be able to attract more Weehawken participants, because it will be a fun thing to do."
Tom Kaminski, the traffic reporter for WCBS-AM Radio, Newsradio 88, served as the event's Master of Ceremonies.
Higgins applauded the efforts of the Port Authority, especially after the department suffered so much pain and anguish after the World Trade Center tragedy.
"We're increasingly impressed with their commitment, despite of all the tragedies that the Port Authority has endured over the last two years," Higgins said. "They also have to deal with the increasing pressures of their jobs, plus their own personal needs, and they still come out in full force. It shows how much they truly care."
Mauriello was more than impressed with the entire day.
"Not to sound corny, but it was really inspiring," Mauriello said. "Everyone cheering; you can actually hear the echoing through the tunnel. There was a sense of camaraderie with everyone. The Port Authority was there, honoring the officers who were killed on Sept. 11, and that was emotional. I never expected much, but it was so good that I plan to run it each year, God willing."