Today I got an email from a friend in Philadelphia asking how I commemorated the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks since I “knew a lot of people who died that day.” Most people who know me have seen my right shoulder which is permanently inked with a tribute to that day. But I’m sure he meant did I do anything special to recognize those who died that day and the answer is…sort of.
On Sunday September 4th I participate in the 9/11 Run to Remember, a 5K on Governor’s Island that benefits various charities that were founded as a result of the attacks. When signing up I noticed that I could have the name of someone who died that day placed on my number bib under the words, “I’m running in memory of.” I immediately emailed my aunt and asked her to check with my uncle, a retired FDNY firefighter who was there that day, whose name he would like. The reply was, “either Billy or Bobby.” I had to choose. Hmm…how do you do that? Billy had always wanted to be a firefighter and a mere 31 years old when he died. Bobby was my uncle’s partner and a Lieutenant in the FDNY and his remains were never recovered. How to choose?
Then I saw it. “Add second bib for $5.00.” I could do 2 bibs. So I did. Then I saw, “Add third bib for $5.00.” I had a vision of myself running a 5K covered in bibs and thought I might look a little silly so I compromised. On one bib I also had the phrase, “All 9/11 Victims” and on the other I had “All 9/11 Heros.” Yes, they spelled heroes without the E. But that’s okay. You get the point. It was also the first 5k I ran in its entirety since I quit smoking nearly 2 years ago. I wouldn’t allow myself to walk at all no matter how much my legs hurt and how out of breath I was. I paid tribute by pushing myself as hard as I could and proudly wore the names of heroes as I did it.
On Saturday 9/10/11 I competed in the Town of Hempstead triathlon in Point Lookout. I figured I had my American flag and tribute already on my shoulder so on this day I would pay tribute to the Russian hockey team who lost their lives in a plane crash on 9/7/11. I even wrote the team name using Cyrillic which took a while. I got no shortage of people asking me what it meant. That day wasn’t for the 9/11 victims. It was for the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team and their loved ones.
As for 9/11/11? I volunteered at a Half Ironman triathlon in beautiful upstate New York and worked at an aid station. This is where the athletes who were on the running portion criss-crossed each other, the lead runners at the 9th mile marker and the ones farther back at the 4th mile. We handed out PowerAde, water, soda and gel. Some ran with American flags as their way of paying tribute. It was a wonderful and beautiful day in Croton on Hudson seeing some spectacular athletes compete in one of the most difficult events there is. I did not watch anything online or on TV.
Paying tribute comes in many different forms and sometimes it’s nothing outward. Did I bow my head for a moment and remember the events of that day and wish everyone’s physical and emotional scars would heal? Of course. But I figure living my life as I normally would is a tribute. Go to an event that reinforces life. Carry on the legacy of those who died by living free and not behaving like a target for radicals and terrorists. We were not defeated. We came together and rose up. I commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11/01 by enjoying the life that is afforded to me by those willing to die so I can have it. As long as we live our lives on our terms we will continue to pay tribute to those who died that day every single day we’re alive.
May they all rest in peace.