Ten Years Later, The Fitness Industry Pauses To Reflect On 9/11

Every American has 20/20 vision regarding their whereabouts on 9/11/01. Here are the stories of selected fitness and bodybuilding personalities.
Joe Palumbo Michelle Hanson Dr. Bob Goldman Lonnie Teper Pauline Nordin Joe Dowdell
Jeff O'Connell Dina Al-Sabah Tom 'Rage' Fuller Ashley Conrad Chad McCrary Anthony Catanzaro
Marika Gethin Helen Yu Kris Gethin Dorian Yates Ryan DeLuca Dave Palumbo

"Ground Zero looked like a
snow storm, but there was nothing
beautiful about it."

Joe Palumbo
IFBB Pro and Active Duty NY SWAT

As a New Yorker, 9/11 directly affected my life. It will always be engraved in my memory. I'm sure that's probably the case with all Americans.

I was on base with my unit that day. I don't remember how it all started. The TV was on, the news channel had just replayed a clip of what looked like a major plane accident, and I was sitting there stunned. I had this really sick feeling that something wasn't right. This can't be just an accident, I thought. I wasn't sure if what I saw was correct.

When the second plane hit, panic started. I remember the phones wouldn't stop ringing. The news kept replaying the same scene over and over, and I knew then that we had been attacked. I was just speechless.

Everyone wanted to jump in the cars and head into the city, but my team was hit with the hardest words we'd ever heard: "We need to wait and standby." The anxious feelings and the adrenaline were so high in that room, it's simply indescribable. Like so many Americans, we just wanted to jump in and help, but we knew as a tactical unit we would had to evaluate the situation and coordinate a plan.

The magnitude of the incident was unforeseen: city commanders had difficulty communicating with their units, more units were actually dispatched than were ordered by the chiefs, and some units self-dispatched. My unit was dispatched to the World Trade Center at 6 a.m. the next day. The trip was amazingly eerie because of the silence.

There was no talking, no sound in the sky: no birds, no planes, no traffic. Our main objective was the safety for all personnel in the rescue efforts. When we went down to Ground Zero, it looked like a snow storm, but there was nothing beautiful about it. Everything was gray, crumbled and crushed, and even today when I picture it, an ominous smell overtakes me. All the personnel at the site exhibited steady determination under horrifying and overwhelming conditions. Their actions saved lives and inspired a nation.

"Honestly, I thought it was a clip from a new movie."
Michelle Hanson
NPC National Bikini Competitor, and Fitness Model

I'll never forget that morning. My little girl was 2-years old. I had just finished feeding her breakfast and was about to climb on my Stair Stepper. I always watch the Today Show during morning cardio, so I flipped on the TV. Instantly, I saw video of the first plane crashing into one of the Towers. Honestly, I thought it was a clip from a new movie.

I hopped on the Stepper and, as I continued watching, I saw the 2nd plane crash. That's when I realized what was actually happening. My knees buckled, my heart started pounding, and my eyes filled with tears. I was in total shock. My daughter, who could barely talk, said, "Mommy, why you sad?"

All I could answer was, "Oh no. Oh my god." I picked her up and held her. We sat, shocked, for almost 10 minutes. I started calling everyone. Houston shut down so we stayed inside all day, watching the news. I couldn't get in touch with any friends in NYC. It was awful.

"I had more than 600 emails about the end of the Earth."
Dr. Bob Goldman
Noted Expert on Anti-aging, Health, and Longevity

I was in Sydney, Australia and was due to lecture for the CEO Organization, which attracts top CEOs from around the world. On September 10, I went to sleep around midnight. When I awoke at 5 a.m. on Sept 11, I had more than 600 emails about the end of the Earth and the collapse of the World Trade Center. It was incredibly surreal.

At that point, I didn't know what to make of it, so I moved forward with the day. When I showed up at the hotel venue to lecture, there were two massive TVs at the front of the room. Each screen showed the Towers falling. So, here I am - supposed to speak on anti-aging and fitness to a huge group of CEOs - in complete and utter shock. Mine was the only lecture given and the rest were cancelled due to tragedy. It was one of the weirdest, saddest, most surreal days of my life.

"Every class was filled with stunned students and a shocked teacher."
Lonnie Teper
Bodybuilding, Fitness, and Figure Journalist

I was still asleep when the phone rang. You never get a good feeling when you hear that sound at such an early hour. It was David Liberman, calling from Cleveland, Ohio. "They've hit the World Trade Center," he said. "They've hit other targets, too. Thousands of people have been killed." His voice was filled with panic, anger and sadness.

I was groggy and didn't fully comprehend his words. I got up, turned on the television, and witnessed the horror Dave had been trying to explain. I was dumb. This can't be real, I thought. When things started sinking in, I called Pasadena City College and asked if classes were cancelled that day. To my great dismay, the answer was no. I went to school as always and taught my courses. Needless to say, it wasn't a productive day. Every class was filled with stunned students and a shocked teacher.

Watching footage of the Towers drop is a memory that will never leave me. Hearing about the plane that the passengers prevented from hitting the [White House] was mind-boggling. It's been 10 years, but it seems like yesterday.

"I was a true American patriot, just born in the wrong country."
Pauline Nordin
International Fitness Model and Trainer

On Sept 11, I was working at a retirement home. The TV was on in the background, but everything stopped when I saw the planes crash into the Trade Center. I remember thinking that my entire world just came to an end.

I had yet to visit America, but in my mind I was a true American patriot, just born in the wrong country. The world did change after 9/11, but my desire to go to America - the country of my dreams - did not.

"I didn't smile for more than a month."
Joe Dowdell
CSCS, CPT, Founder & CEO of Peak Performance

It's been 10 years, and yet still I remember September 11, 2001 so vividly. At the time, I owned a personal training studio at 106 E. 19th Street in an area of Manhattan called Gramercy Park. I walked my Rottweilers, Ozzie and Zoe, to work that morning. It was a sunny, beautiful Tuesday.

Like most mornings in the studio, we had several clients and trainers in the gym going through their routines. I randomly heard a very loud plane outside but, at that moment, it didn't occur to me that anything was wrong. I do remember thinking, "Wow, that plane sounded really close."

Only a few minutes later, my business advisor called. I picked up the office phone and he spilled, "Turn on the news. A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center."

"No way!" I replied.

I hung up the phone and yelled to everyone in the gym. We gathered around the TV at the front desk, completely quiet and totally stunned, staring blankly at the TV set. Suddenly, as a news camera tilted up at the Trade Center, another plane barreled into the South Tower.

At that point, we exploded in disbelief, volleying expletives. We stayed glued to the TV for a couple hours, watching in horror as the Towers collapsed. Eventually, I closed the gym and everyone headed home.

I remember walking down the block with my dogs and, as I turned the corner onto Park Avenue South, I encountered a sea of people walking away from downtown. Nobody was talking to each other.

No one was smiling. Everyone had this glassed look, determined to make it home. I stopped at a deli, picked up some staples, hustled home and planted myself in front of the TV. A few friends couldn't get out, so they gathered at my apartment and spent the night.

Eventually, I found out that my second cousin - Lt. Kevin Dowdell, a firefighter in Rescue 4 (Queens) - tragically died that day. He gave his life to help save others. After 9/11, living in NYC was incredibly difficult. I didn't smile for more than a month.

Six weeks after the tragedy, I remember finally laughing when a friend said something funny. It felt so great to laugh. It took me more than six weeks to realize it, but I hadn't experienced a positive emotional moment since the attack. I realized then how powerful a smile can be.

"The spot where I'd eaten breakfast was now part of a war zone."
Jeff O'Connell
Editor-in-Chief, Bodybuilding.com

I was still in bed in Jersey City, directly across the Hudson River from the World Trade Center. After hearing what I thought was a wall-thudding sonic boom, I rolled over and fell back to sleep.

Oversleeping was a lucky break for me. My PATH train commute would have taken me underneath WTC for the subway connection uptown near the exact time the first tower collapsed.

By the time I emerged from my apartment building and walked the two blocks to the river, both skyscrapers were spewing black smoke. It looked in person like it looked on TV.

Sounds stick in my mind.

The crackle of the first tower buckling. Hundreds of sirens blaring at once. The shriek of a girl standing 10 feet from me, watching from across the river but closer to the scene than most Manhattanites.

I didn't board the train that day or for months afterward. I had to find a new route until service was restored.

I had moved east from Los Angeles three months before, transferring my job with Muscle & Fitness to New York City to find a change of scenery. Seeing Wall Street in a mushroom cloud wasn't what I anticipated. We had completed photo shoots in the city after the Team Universe contest a month earlier. The spot where the crew and I had eaten breakfast that day was now part of a war zone.

I've spent my career writing about bodies, but in the aftermath of 9/11, the saddest, most heartbreaking sights were the rows of pictures and desperate pleas from the survivors plastered on subway walls throughout the city - stockbrokers, mothers, beaming young girls, goofy dads. These were not the faces I was accustomed to seeing on fliers for the missing.

"It was a gorgeous day, an Indian summer day."
Dina Al-Sabah
IFBB Pro, Only IFBB Athlete to compete in Both Inaugural Figure and Bikini Olympias, Only Arab Female on the Olympia Stage

I was driving to a photo shoot in Pennsylvania with [photographer] Reg Bradford that morning.

On the way, I remember listening to Howard Stern initially report that a small plane had hit one of the Towers. He was joking about the dangers of drunk flying. It wasn't until the second plane crash that everyone realized two things: these weren't small planes, and the crashes weren't accidental.

There were countless reports, some of which said that one of the buildings I lived next to had been hit. I was so worried about what I'd find at home. I was already halfway to the shoot - and there were no TVs in sight - so I just kept driving.

It was a gorgeous day, an Indian summer day, and the pictures we took were vibrant and beautiful. It wasn't until Reg and I went to the gym to shoot workout material that we actually saw what was happening. Once Reg and I caught the CNN broadcast, we immediately decided to wrap.

The road back to DC was deserted. I only saw a few cop cars. I remember trying to call my mother and not being able to dial out.

When I got closer to home, the stench of burning electrical components hung heavy in the air. I lived near the Pentagon. Whenever I catch that smell, I am always transported to 9/11.

"I started getting pissed."
Tom 'Rage' Fuller
Manager, Western Division, Universal Nutrition

It was before dawn. I was driving a twisty 2-lane highway up to the Central Coast on a business trip in Southern California. Unable to tune to any other radio stations, I turned the dial to the AP Network to keep me alert for the remaining two hours of my drive.

Just as the sun was beginning to rise, I heard the first news alert that an airplane had hit one of the Twin Towers. What a terrible accident, I thought. How could this have happened? Controller error? I mourned for the deceased. I couldn't stop thinking about their loved ones and the loss they would have to endure.

Then the AP Network delivered the news that another plane hit the second Tower. For me, that changed everything. Confusion set in as I quickly realized the crashes were not accidental. The planes were crashed on purpose. But why? Why would someone do this? Who was behind it?

By the time the third plane crashed into the side of the Pentagon, the objective of this unknown entity became increasingly clear. Someone wanted to instill fear and insecurity into one of the greatest superpowers ever: the United States of America. I started getting pissed.

Who the f*ck were these people to do something so terrible to us?

On 9/11, I grew closer to our great nation. Maybe it was a result of my own military service, but I immediately wanted to stand up and help defend our country. One thing is for sure: that day changed me, and it changed America.

We bounced back quickly and waved our flags even higher. We taped them on our cars, posted them outside our homes, and even set our computer screensavers and backgrounds to the colors that mean the most: red, white and blue.

We mourned together and rose up to fight together. I will never forget that day as long as I live on this earth and walk this great land. We became stronger.

"God, please get people out of those buildings."
Ashley Conrad
Celebrity Trainer, Clutch Bodyshop

At 5 a.m. my cell phone started blowing up, just ringing over and over. On the other end was my best friend, in Boston, hysterical and crying. Through the tears and the panic, she told me to turn on the TV, that there was a nationwide terrorist attack in progress and that two planes had just flown into the World Trade Center.

I ran into the living room and turned on the TV. I literally could not believe what I was seeing. Tears began streaming down my face and I just dropped to my knees and began praying, "God, please get people out of those buildings." I knew what I was watching would change the world, and that America would never be the same.

To the men in women who continue to fight overseas, I thank you for defending our country and fighting for my freedom to do what I want, say what I want, and pursue my dreams to the utmost. You are the true heroes of this world and I thank you with all my heart.

"It was utter chaos as the THREATCON level went from ALPHA to DELTA in no time flat."
Chad McCrary
Wheelchair Bodybuilding Champion

I was working in Texas at the Red River Army Depot as a firefighter and paramedic. I remember coming on duty that morning, as always, at 0700 hours. Like usual, we met in the radio room to discuss and plan how our day would unfold - which building, hydrants, and sprinkler systems would be inspected.

Fox News was airing in the background, and we basically watched the entire event unfold from the time it hit the air. It was incredibly surreal to see such a tragedy. As a single engine pilot, I thought the first plane was perhaps a pilot blunder, or maybe even a mechanical malfunction.

After watching the second plane pierce the building, it was obvious this was no accident. I realized the crashes had to be intentional, but I couldn't figure out how the planes got past our security. It just never dawned on me that they could be our own planes.

That day will forever be permanently lodged in my mind. My thoughts and prayers still go out to the victims and their families. As for what happened on base, it was utter chaos as the THREATCON (Terrorist Threat Conditions) level went from ALPHA to DELTA in no time flat. The base was closed off and soldiers lined the perimeter with M60s.

It stayed that way for some time. A lot of security precautions have since been rethought and implemented. Some of these have been necessary and some might be overkill, but I guess when you're dealing with a war on terrorism, you can't be too safe.

"We must love, treat and respect each other like brothers and sisters."
Anthony Catanzaro
Fitness Model and Natural Bodybuilding Champion

I was actually on vacation the week of 9/11, which was three days after a bodybuilding contest in which I had competed, "The INBF Natural Mania." I remember getting up late that morning around 9 a.m. The TV was on and I saw the first tower with smoke billowing from it. I asked my wife Tina, who was making breakfast at the time, what happened.

She said an airplane hit the World Trade Center. I immediately thought it was deliberate since the Trade Center was a target once before. Within minutes, another plane hit. We were completely shocked. Our house is only 5 minutes from JFK airport, so we were incredibly worried about what would happen next. It was a horrific day and so many innocent lives were taken.

What for? Religion?

I love God. I'm a huge believer in the goodness of God. In my opinion, we are all children of God and it doesn't matter what religion you follow. All that matters is that we are brothers and sisters and we must love, treat and respect each other like brothers and sisters.

God bless the lives lost that day and the families who lost their loved ones.

"I felt like I was experiencing fiction, not fact."
Marika Gethin
IFBB Pro Bodybuilder

9/11 still lives in my mind like it was yesterday. I was working as a health therapist and had gathered a group of students in the leisure room. The TV was on, as always, in the morning before class.

Suddenly, a news reporter interrupted the program with the horrible news that the United States had been attacked. I saw both of the towers still standing, but one was hit and smoke was coming out of it.

This was the start of a tragic and horrible day. We stopped what we were doing, sat down, and followed the news. I felt like I was experiencing fiction, not fact.

It was so surreal and made us all feel lost. To see so many helpless lives wasted left me empty and angry. I remember how everyone on the streets and in the stores in my city - Helisingborg, Sweden - was confused and shocked. My heart still pours out to everyone who lost someone that day.

"All I could think of was my family."
Helen Yu
Web Development, Iron Man Magazine

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was in Los Angeles getting ready for work. When I heard the news, the second plane had just hit the South tower. All I could think of was my family. My sister Janet worked on Wall Street at the time, about 4 blocks from WTC. I could hardly breathe when I watched the towers collapse on TV.

I thought about my friends at Bankers Trust in Tower 7 where I worked one summer. Time seemed to stand still, yet crazy thoughts raced through my mind. I could only imagine the chaos overtaking the densely populated area.

I waited endlessly for a call from home. I was able to reach family in the suburbs, but it was impossible to reach anyone in Manhattan for about 12 hours. Eventually, I heard that Janet and other family members walked home via Brooklyn Bridge or took a ferry to Long Island.

It took them hours to wade through the dust, debris and panic, but they all made it safely home. I remain grateful to the dozens of people who helped my family find their way home, and I still mourn those who never had a chance to go home at all.

"I unplugged the TV and took it to my gym."
Kris Gethin
Author of Body By Design

It's a day I will never forget, but the details are a blur. I was living in Sydney, Australia at the time. I was up at 4 a.m. preparing my meals before heading out to open my fitness center at 6 a.m. As I sat down with my bowl of oats and protein powder, I couldn't focus on what was happening on TV.

I didn't know if I was half asleep, if this was part of a controversial movie report, or if it was reality. I clicked onto a couple of other channels. I stopped chewing.

Reality sank in and my attention magnified. Adrenaline from fear and shock kicked in. What felt like minutes turned into an hour.

I unplugged the TV and took it to my gym so I could continue to watch the horror unfold.

"It felt like one of those old black-and-white war movies."
Dorian Yates
6-Time Mr. Olympia

I was in my office when someone told me the news. I turned the radio on and heard a horrid play-by-play. It felt like one of those old black and white war movies, when everyone is gathered around the radio listening to the air raids, waiting for good news and anticipating the worst. There was no good news that day, only tragic reports on innocent deaths and destruction.

"The scariest question of all: What will be attacked next?"
Ryan DeLuca
CEO, Bodybuilding.com

I remember being half awake when my phone started ringing. It was my mom.

"Turn on the TV," she said.


"Just turn it on. You'll see."

The second plane had just hit the World Trade Center. What may have looked like an accident suddenly became a terrorist act. America was under attack. Like everybody else, I was in shock, glued to the television. Who did this? Why did they do it? What were we going to do in retaliation? And the scariest question of all: What will be attacked next? My city? The next plane I board? Everything changed.

I just wanted to lie back down and wake up from the nightmare, but I was already awake.

"How could I be so big and strong, and yet so utterly helpless?"
Dave Palumbo
Bodybuilding Champion, Radio Show Host and Training/Nutrition Guru

I was sleeping in my old childhood bed, back in my dad's house, fresh off a nasty separation from my ex-wife. I figured it couldn't really get much worse than being 32 years old, asleep in your old bedroom with a 70's Farrah Fawcett poster still on the wall.

That is, until I was awakened by a friend repainting my dad's decrepit old kitchen. I remember it like it was yesterday. He screamed up the stairs to me, "Get down here, we're under attack!"

Those words rattled me into a state of consciousness like I'd never experienced. I assume it must be what a sleeping soldier feels when the sound of an exploding mortar jars his brain.

Once awake, I ran downstairs and - as my blurry vision focused on the old box TV in my dad's living room - I was stunned to see the first Trade Center Tower collapsing. It was humbling to realize how many people perished in the blink of an eye. To say I was stunned would be an understatement. The reality was much bleaker. I was paralyzed with uncertainty, unable to move even a single muscle in my 300-pound body.

How could I be so big and strong, and yet so utterly helpless?

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