Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 23 Oct 2001 08:47:58 -0400



The day when America's luck ran out, the day that changed everything, began the same as all days do for me. Quietly. Out of bed by six o'clock but choosing not to turn on a radio or television for at least the first hour.

My weekly newsletter went out to subscribers as usual in that early hour of September 11th. That Running Commentary didn't mention the events that would make this day infamous -- joining December 7th in my parents' generation and November 22nd in mine -- because I didn't yet know about them.

The first bulletins had just interrupted the morning news shows as my now-trivial running news made its rounds. RC led off with a column under the now-ironic and terribly inappropriate title of "Happy New Year."

The morning's silence, and its peace, ended as I climbed into my car. (I drive to running spots that are friendly to my dog and me.)

On went the radio, where instead of the regular seven o'clock news a grim voice announced "NPR's continuing coverage of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC." The reports that followed would forever brand this as a where-I-was-when-I-heard moment.

The run that followed seemed both wasteful and essential. Shouldn't I rush home to tell my wife Barbara (who'd been asleep when I left home), and to try contacting family and friends in and around the target cities instead of going on with my day as if nothing had happened?

I kept going because this wasn't business as usual. I needed this time to think -- not about how this could have happened or who was behind it or what government responses would come next, but about the possible victims.

As all of you did, I ran through my mental file of addresses for everyone living and working in New York and Washington, or possibly flying from the East Coast to the West that morning. Later I would e-mail them to say, "Please tell me you're okay."

None of them, or us, would be entirely okay even after the dust settled and the fires cooled. But at least I had to learn who was safe.

MY FIRST TWO reassurances came unsolicited. Larry Sillen. He works as a photographer for a major advertising agency and has been my running camp-mate for the past 20 summers.

Larry wrote to say, "I'm doing okay, just upset about what happened here in New York. We all will be strong because we are all standing together as an nation and as a global community."

David Monti, the man behind Race Results Weekly, assured his subscribers that he and his wife Jane "are okay physically, but emotionally we are traumatized. The twin towers of the World Trade Center were a symbol or our pride as New Yorkers. I have been in the towers many times, and Jane was there only [Monday]. They were so huge, so massive."

He added that "New Yorkers can be hard, but we have big hearts. We will get through this, together."

Two well-known running figures answered my e-mails right away. TV commentator Larry Rawson and Avon Circuit director Kathrine Switzer said they were fine. But Larry added, "I used to work for Morgan Stanley, which occupied 22 floors in one of the buildings."

My cousin Peggy Foote lives in New Jersey but commutes to Manhattan. Not knowing where she worked or how to contact her, I checked with her father.

My uncle Bob King wrote right back: "Peggy works in midtown Manhattan, about three miles north of the World Trade Center. Gary [her husband] wasn't able to get in touch with her for some time after the catastrophe, but finally did."

Bob noted that his daughter once worked in the Trade Center. "Her bank, Citicorp, still had meetings there occasionally, and Peggy attended some of them."

Other people in and around New York City make up my Runner's World and wider running families. I checked on the RW family by contacting publisher George Hirsch (based in the city) and editor Amby Burfoot (100 miles to the west). My concern wasn't just with the office staffs but with who might have been flying that day.

George wrote that "all our team is well." His office isn't near the epicenter.

Amby said that his wife, Cristina Negron, was stranded in Los Angeles. Senior editor Bob Wischnia couldn't get out of Austin, and John Brant couldn't fly to Philadelphia. All were safe, which was all that mattered.

Our greatest worry was for Victor Sailer. The RW photographer's work as a New York City firefighter took him into the devastation, where hundreds of his comrades died. But Victor was safe.

RW and New York Times writer Marc Bloom reported from his New Jersey home, "Like everyone around here (and everywhere), I'm quite shaken and overcome with emotion. I know a number of people who barely escaped with their lives."

I'M SO CLOSE to one family in the New York area that I've been called "the 13th Sheehan." George Sheehan III called before he'd read my e-mail.

Dr. George's eldest son doesn't live or work in New York City, but much of his big family does -- including two brothers with jobs at the Trade Center.

"Thank God we Sheehans like to sleep late," George said. "Tim was on his way to work -- at the Port Authority, which had heavy losses -- when his building was hit."

The youngest of the 12 Sheehans, Michael, had much nearer miss. George told me, "He was working at a stock brokerage on the 55th floor when the plane stuck. He ran down the stairwell and outside just before the building collapsed." Thank God for his fitness.

Andrew Sheehan also was sucked into the day's events. The author of the much-discussed new book, Chasing The Hawk, worked as a TV reporter to cover the crash of the hijacked plane near Pittsburgh.

I met Wendy Weill at one of Jeff Galloway's running camps but didn't know she'd recently taken a new job -- in the World Trade Center. She had an experience like to Michael Sheehan's.

"After I escaped my building," Wendy wrote, "I took off my shoes and ran to try to get far away from the falling debris. That was before the first building imploded. Being in good shape sure helped."

Another woman I knew from the Galloway camp, Lindsy Borden, reported going voluntarily to "ground zero." She works as a chef, and the day after the tragedy she delivered food and water to emergency workers. "All the news pictures were suddenly real," she said, "and it was hard to describe."

It's hard to know what to say or think or do about any of this. We can't ignore or forget it, certainly, but we also can't let it disrupt our lives for too long.

If that happens, the criminals win again. They want to do everything possible to disrupt our way of working and playing, living and loving. We need to do everything possible to keep that from happening.


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