My Journey home from NYC on 9/11
FASHION &FITNESS / The Marathon of His Life:
Running Home From Terror
John Hanc. Fitness writer John Hanc is a regular contributor to Newsday. . Newsday , Combined
editions; Long Island, N.Y. [Long Island, N.Y]24 Sep 2001: B16.
ProQuest document link: https://search.proquest.com/docview/279486223?accountid=35174
BILL McDERMOTT wanted to get home.
In his office at 730 Third Ave., near 47th Street, he had heard the news about the World Trade Center terrorist
attacks. He had three friends working there – two of them had invited McDermott to consider working for them in
the computer training business they had in Tower One.
He feared the worst for them, and like almost everyone else in New York on that terrible morning, felt the sense of
rising panic around him. “I just needed to get away,” recalled McDermott, who works with computer systems for
TIAA-CREF, a teacher’s annuity fund. “I needed to get home.”
McDermott heard that the bridges and tunnels were closed. He knew that Penn Station would be a madhouse.
Some of his co-workers were talking about getting hotel rooms, hitchhiking. He had a better idea: A veteran of
seven marathons and a top age group competitor in local races, McDermott decided to run home . . . all the way to
McDermott went to the Sports Authority on Third Avenue. He bought a pair of black shorts, a pale blue sleeveless
shirt and two PowerBars. He considered buying a couple of packets of energy gel, as well, but then decided against
it. “I said, ‘No I don’t need the caffeine today,'” he said.
He went back to his office, changed out of his work clothes and into his new running outfit. He then called his wife,
Allison, and told her his plans. “No, she wasn’t surprised,” McDermott said when asked his wife’s reaction. “She’s
been through the running thing with me.”
Armed with his PowerBars, employee ID, cell phone and $5, he laced up the black Nike cross-trainers he uses as his
“walking to work” shoes and headed out the door just before 11 a.m. McDermott first ran up 46th Street to the 59th
Street Bridge. As he jogged over the bridge, he saw a Poland Spring truck stuck in the last wave of traffic allowed
to cross. Figuring he was going to need water, he called out to the driver, who traded him a bottle of Poland Spring
for a PowerBar.
On the Queens side of the bridge, he began to head toward Brooklyn, but realized he didn’t know the borough well
enough to find his way to the South Shore. So he doubled back and followed signs to the LIE. He knew that running
on the expressway normally is prohibited. But, McDermott figured, “What are they going to do? It’s the craziest day
in the world; they’re going to kick me off?”
As it turned out, there was little traffic and, as he had predicted, police had more important things on their minds
that day. He ran on the shoulder for a few miles before exiting onto Woodhaven Boulevard. He stopped there at a
deli to buy a bottle of Gatorade. No one looked twice at a guy on line in running clothes. Little did they know he was
an office worker on his way home. “It’s not like I was carrying a briefcase,” he said, laughing. (He’d left that with his
work clothes in his office.)
He followed Woodhaven Boulevard south all the way through Queens, pausing at a gas station in Howard Beach to
refill his water bottle, then continued south on Cross Bay Boulevard and into the Rockaways. Eventually, he made
his way to Beach Channel Drive, following it east before turning south onto the Rockaway Beach boardwalk. There,
he decided to take a break. Up to that point, the run had been somewhat of an adventure, and his mind had been
focused on navigating his route home. But there, on the nearly empty Rockaway boardwalk, on what was a
gorgeous late summer day, weather-wise, the gravity of what was happening back in the city he had left began to
hit him. So powerful were the emotions he felt at that point that he began to weep as he retold the story, days later.
“I [was] looking on the ocean on this peaceful day,” he said. “Everything is just so calm . . . all nature there
undisturbed. But I turned around, and you could see the smoke, and just know what’s there is the worst thing on
the face of the Earth . . .”
As he continued to run, he wondered about the fate of his friends . . . and of his country. “I wondered, ‘Who died? Is
this going to be a war?'”
McDermott continued on, stopping at the very end of the boardwalk at a place called, appropriately enough for a
man eager to get home, “Almost Paradise” – a well-known beach establishment, where he bought another bottle of
He crossed into Nassau County, then over the Atlantic Beach Bridge, where he picked up one of his regular training
routes: Bay Boulevard, down to Beech Street to Park Avenue, up to the end of the canals, and, finally – at about 4:30
p.m. – he arrived at his home on Curley Street, where his wife and two daughters, 9-year-old Callan and 6- year-old
Payton, were waiting for him.
McDermott estimated he ran about 25 miles on Sept. 11. Counting his walking and rest breaks, it took him about
five hours. It was time well spent, he figured. “It cleared my head, gave me time to think. At one point, I said to
myself, ‘This is probably better than sitting and watching the videotapes [of the explosion] again and again.'”
There was mixed news waiting for him. Two of his friends in the World Trade Center had escaped unharmed. A
third, a female colleague from the city and a runner, was missing.
McDermott made it home. But one of the realizations he came to during the run was that there was more to do.
Two years ago, he organized something called World Run Day – a somewhat open-ended charity event that he
promoted, mostly through the Internet. The idea was for people anywhere in the world to run any distance – around
the block or a marathon – and then donate any amount of money to any charity they chose. Last year, about 400
runners from 30 states and four countries participated on World Run Day and raised about $26,000 for 50 charities.
This year, McDermott established some events around the world that are specially linked to World Run Day. So far,
event directors in 20 countries and 40 cities worldwide have committed to hosting an event of at least 100 runners
or more on that day. This year’s World Run Day will be held Nov. 11 – two months to the day after the attack. He is
asking all runners or walkers who will participate around the world to donate to charities related to victims and
families of the tragedy that he was able to run from.
Seems that, in addition to a strong pair of legs, Bill McDermott has a big heart.
For more information on World Run Day, visit www.runday.com.
(Note: I originally estimated the run to be about 25 miles to John Hanc. I later measured it to be about 28 miles – not that 3 miles makes a big difference).
Document type: NEWSPAPER
ProQuest document ID: 279486223
Document URL: https://search.proquest.com/docview/279486223?accountid=35174
Copyright: (Copyright Newsday Inc., 2001)
Last updated: 2017-11-07
Database: Newsday,US Newsstream