How 9/11 Affected Me

I have no direct connection to 9/11, thankfully. The way that I chose to honor 9/11 the last two years was by participating in the special 9/11 WOD that CrossFit Firebase puts on. This included a long workout at Lake Eola with running and calisthenics, then moved to a downtown office building for part 2, which was running stairs. Part 1 takes almost an hour and running the stairs takes several times that, so it’s an epic morning of working out by any standards.

This year, part 2 was 14 times up and down inside the Wells Fargo building (16 floors). I hammered through all 14 ups and downs. It took me 2.5 hours. Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve grinded through stairs inside a muggy, sweaty stairwell for 2.5 hours. It was brutal and I was crawling by the end. I was very very glad to have done it with good friends, otherwise I don’t think I would have gone the distance.

When 9/11 happened, I was living in Durham, North Carolina and working as an assistant coach for the Duke University women’s rowing team. I was driving to breakfast after practice to meet the other coaches when I heard about it on the radio. Then my phone rang. I met our staff at the restaurant and we watched the one TV along with everyone else. It was awful and tense. Then we went to the office to digest the news and try to figure out how to proceed. I can’t remember if I ate or not, but I don’t think I did.

I remember feeling the whole thing was surreal and confusing. I wasn’t sure how to feel. No one did. I wasn’t spurred to action nor did I feel infuriated, because, I think, I didn’t grasp the enormity of what had happened and how it was going to change the world. Something like that is nearly beyond comprehension unless you actually experience it. Only as the days went by did I start to get a feeling of dread and the seed of anger.

It was like that moment in the original Star Wars film where Alderaan gets blown up by the Death Star and Obi-Wan senses a “disturbance in the force” and he knows something horrible is wrong but not exactly what’s next. It was totally fucked up.

We held crew practice the day after 9/11 and I thought that was a bad choice and I was infuriated that we went through with it. We had kids who were from the northeast and had connections to the tragedy and coping with it was more important than rowing. Or any sport. Surely we should not have been on the water. I remember feeling like a ghost while coaching, numb to everything.

Now that I think about, that moment at Duke where we held the practice may have been the beginning of the end of my coaching career. That was the first time I was truly disenchanted about the profession and the smallest realization that it was a short term path crept into my consciousness. After that, I had a long slow withdrawal (10 years) before finally getting out. So, in a way, 9/11 did completely change my life, just like it changed so many lives.

I was inspired by the story of Jason Read, who competed at the 2000 Olympics in rowing and was also a firefighter and rescue chief in New Jersey. He went to Ground Zero immediately after the attacks and worked tirelessly. I wish my contribution could have been something at that level, because it would have been better than doing nothing.

Instead what I do is reflect on the meaning of the event and try to stay in the moment during a short period of duress, ie running stairs in the Wells Fargo building. I tried not to think about my own suffering and instead think about the efforts of people like Jason Read and the incredible tragedy of the nearly 3000 victims. It’s the best I can do.

Big ups to Sergey, Iassen, Nate, Christian, Ted, and Carl for doing all 14.

  • Hey Ben, we met back in 2008 on my short visit to Louisville with Ashley. I wrote a very similar post here on my own blog:

    I’m happy to hear that you were able to channel the memory of 9/11 into something healthy and productive and reflective. I think I did the same, though on the other side of the world.

    Be well and keep in touch!

  • Hi Leslie! Thanks for reading and commenting…I do remember meeting at the Monkey Wrench! I read your post, great stuff, I’m glad you’re blogging and doing well. It looks like you’ve got some really exciting stuff going on.