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SimplyStu Podcast Series

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The Last Day of Innocence

Sep 4, 2006

Several weeks after the 9/11 attacks, I arranged a trip to visit the Pentagon and the World Trade center with my brother (A fireman) and my best friend. It all started as we exited the Metro (Subway) in Washington D.C. It was about a mile walk from the exit to the part of the building that was hit. Since I work partially out of Washington D.C., I had seen the Pentagon 100's of times. Even after knowing the layout of the building, I was not totally sure where the attack took place. What I had in my mind and what was actual were two different things. After coming closer to the building I was in total shock. No matter how many times I had seen it on TV, seeing it live was unbelievable. You could see crews with hoses still working on the building. As we sat and reflected, I started to look at writings people had of the day. I also took lots of pictures as this was something I never wanted to forget. Living in Wisconsin and watching this take place in Washington was so hard. Going to the Pentagon and seeing it first hand was so healing…

Later that day we took a train to New York City to see the World Trade Center. We checked into the hotel and decided we would go to the site in the AM. I had made arrangements to get onto the grounds to let my brother make peace with all that had happened and pay respects to all that had fallen, especially the Fire Fighters. As the Subway got closer to the site, I started to think back to the day all this happened. I was shaking as we got off on the last available stop. As we exited, you could still smell smoke, even after all this time. The moment I stepped out into the light of day, I was speechless. You could still see the ash on the ground. You could see it on the buildings. It was weeks prior, but you could still see, smell and taste the aftermath.

I continued to walk in silence to the gate where we were to meet with my contact to walk us to the site. We met and walked into a screening area where we had to leave all but our jackets. We did so and started to walk in areas where the general public were still not allowed. We walked in silence and could see it right in front of us. We continued to walk to the actual footprint of the buildings. You could still see piles and piles of rubble. You could see the infamous grid that you see in so many pictures. For those that have seen the footprint, it is so much bigger than you could imagine.

We did not talk much at all. There was nothing really to say. You can see by the pictures, that not much really can or needs to be said at that moment. I looked at my brother and could see the pain he felt for his fallen fraternity brothers. He is a firefighter that would have gone in that building without question as so many did.

NOTE: I want to make it clear that I'm not in any way equating what happened on 9/11 to triathlons, but what happened next will be a print on my mind for the rest of time…

As we made our way out of the building, we had nothing to say. You could still see the window shades blowing in the breeze inside the broken windows. You could still see cars and trucks with concrete slabs on top. The ash was on my shoes. As we walked down a few blocks, my friend and brother had walked ahead and I stopped in front of a store. I looked and instantly dropped to my knees. Inside the ash washed windows was a small family owned dry cleaning and shoe repair store. There were about 20 bags full of clothes. There were also rows of shoes that had tags on them. As I looked closer to all the bags, they all had one of 2 dates on them 9/10 or 9/11.

I will never forget that store. Those tags. The lives that were changed in a matter on minutes. I use this as a constant reminder that we never know what tomorrow brings. We never know what life has in store for us. For everyone that is doing the Ironman Wisconsin this year it is on a very special day. That day is September 10th, 2006. Everyone should understand that on this day before the attacks, the world had no idea what was in store. The world had no idea that the very next day would be one of the most significant days in world history. This day was the last day of innocence.

I think about this on race day for 2 reasons.

1) When it comes down to the grand scheme of things, the Ironman is not all that big of a deal. In fact when it comes to what happened on 9/11, it is not even on the radar. So, if you are worrying this week, think about the race in the big picture. If you are stressing, drop it. If you are not getting sleep, take a deep breath and relax.

2) When it comes to YOU and those you WILL inspire on race day, this is a BIG deal. This is your 9/10. Think about what a different world things were on 9/10. You have a chance to repair brick, by brick what was torn down and destroyed on 9/11. You have a chance to do your part to help restore a very small but significant piece of the world. Yes, the Ironman is a big deal. It is an amazing race. It is an inspiration. It shows what humans can do with some incredible effort, dedication and passion. Ironman is a day when people from most every country, state, race, and religion come together to show what human nature is capable of. 9/10 is the LAST day of innocence. 9/10 is the day when the world was still Naïve. 9/10 is the day that Ironman truly belongs on.

For all those doing Ironman on 9/10 - enjoy your portion of history. In the grand scheme of things your Ironman race is microscopic, but for those you inspire it is as tall as the World Trade center. Never underestimate the power you give to yourself and those that see your passion.

fourteen and a half years ago

Hey Stu, You do SO much for so many triathletes and future triathletes, I would happily read anything you wrote! My brother worked next door to the towers. I worked in DC at the time, and it was a very long day for may parents who could not reach either of us, nor could we reach them. Both of us reflected later that the hardest part was knowing how panicked they\\\'d be. Like you, i am very attached to my family, and like you, when I challenge myself to try new things, I think of them and their support and their unconditional love. It makes it easier to jump when you know your family is there as a net. Thanks for reminding us to focus on that.

FHEO Shawn aka the brother
fourteen and a half years ago

Well Stu aka my brother, I just saw this update you added to your web site. WOW! I am so proud of you for all you are doing with your Triathlons and the web site! As you know 9-11 is this coming Monday, but like you said this weekend is yours! I will be their for you on 9-10 and I KNOW you will be their for me on the next, by the way I work on 9-11 this year AGAIN!
Love You
Your Fire Heavy Equipment Operator Brother
and Friend

fourteen and a half years ago

Wow... that was incredibly well-written. Well done, Stu.

fourteen and a half years ago


Thanks for the perspective and for sharing your experience. Best of luck to all those who will go out and Inspire on 9/10 & Blessings to all those we remember on 9/11.


PS Thank you for the encouraging comment/email on my blog.

fourteen and a half years ago

I follow Iron Wil\'s blog regularly, and just clicked over to yours. What a great perspective...
I had a negative attitude about a bad race recently, and it really helps to remember that the inspiration factor is more important than any time. It reminds me also why I appreciate endurance sport over anything that uses a ball!

fourteen and a half years ago

Thank you for putting things in perspective-it\'s the way I also look at things. I think I continue to participate in Triathlons as it\'s a chance to really see people support each other-complete strangers of different nationalities. I don\'t even see that in my schools much anymore. Sport really and truly branches many differences and gaps between us.

fourteen and a half years ago


Powerful writing. Well said.


fourteen and a half years ago


Respectfully, I personally prefer your triathlon commentary.

Best of luck with the rest of the season.

fourteen and a half years ago

It\'s nice to be reminded. Sometimes we forget.

fourteen and a half years ago

A thoughtful reminder of how things can change in an instant. When I was packing to move 2 years ago, I found a cancelled check I wrote on September 10, 2001, and I thought the same thing...little did I know that day that everything would change in a few short hours. It\'s even more of a reason that I try to embrace every day that we have here.