I remember September 11, 2001 as if it were yesterday. It was my birthday, numero 43, and I had taken Adam to junior high that day, and headed to my favorite bagel shop in Madison. I was picking up bagels when I saw the second plane crash into the Towers. I knew then it was a terrorist attack. I just remember being stunned.
The next moment, I made my first phone call to Victor Sailer. Victah, who does most of the track & field photos and major race photos for the Running Network publications, and someone I have known since 1986. Victah was a fireman a the time. My son Adam had known Victor since he was three, when Christine and I started American Athletics. Vic was there for us, with comments, photographs and encouragement. He is the New York cousin I never had. I knew he was stationed in the Tower area, so I was worried. Adam, for a few weeks wanted to change his name to Vic-I remember telling Victah and he had a good laugh.
I made a dozen phone calls that day to his phone, and about eleven oclock that night, I called and promised him to loose a hundred pounds if he was alive. At 11.55 that night, he called back and said that he got my message and I was now on the record. I did fulfill my promise and walked a marathon too the next year. Vic, in his inimitable style is on me now to loose my next weight class, so the support is constant. He is a great and loving friend.
Victor retired as a firemen a few months after the 9-11 disaster. I did not celebrate my birthday for several years after that, feeling foolish after all of the losses. One of my former high school classmates had an office in one of the Towers and and had pulled one of his sales staff off a toilet to get him out.
This year, as I turn the big five oh, my parents, niece and son will be with me, and I will grab a pint with some friends at the Black Hawk and perhaps go over to our other watering hole, the Velvet Lips. One turns 50 one time. My heart will be with the families who did not get to celebrate any more birthdays and who have that huge hole that a tragic loss like 9-11 brings.
The following column is about the late Vic Navarra, with an intro by Pat Butcher, and the column proper by Victor Sailer,. Those that know Mr. Sailer know that he is not one to show emotions easily. His loving tribute to Vic Navarra, one of the nicest guys in the world, needs to be savored and treasured....
ICE CREAM SUNDAE
In London this week, three British-born terrorists were found guilty of plotting to blow up a series of transatlantic jets, using seemingly innocuous household liquids, which would be mixed onboard, and triggered by camera batteries. In the aftermath of 9-11, it was the uncovering of this plot two years ago that has resulted in the liquid-search at airports and the like. So every time you curse when your bottle of water is taken out of your bag and binned, stop for a moment and reflect. Which is something my pal Vic Sailer has done a lot since 9-11.
Many of you will have seen the name of international athletics photographer Vic(tah) Sailer, and probably wondered how he manages to be in so many places in such a short time. But not many people will know that Vic was formerly a New York fireman, which he still was on 9-11.
Here, the day before the seventh anniversary of the defining moment of the early 21st century, is Vic’s reminiscence of another NY fireman, Vic Navarra, who closely involved with the New York Marathon.
This is going to be the most brutal 9-11, as it will mark the first passing of my most beloved namesake and running friend, Vic Navarra. I was first alerted to Vic when I read a story in the NYRR Magazine about another running Vic. This other Vic, a fellow FDNY Firefighter was the start coordinator of the NYC Marathon.
This was a very special man. He was the guy you wanted to be around, as he was engaging, easygoing, full of life, funny, and so much more. We became very very close friends over the years, and when 9-11 occurred, I encountered him at Ground Zero. He was happy to see that I was not among the 343 FDNY Firefighters who perished in the Twin Towers.
Though Vic was retired, he spent many many hours away from his family as many other retired Firefighters did, since the FDNY had a tradition of helping our own and Ground Zero only multiplied this FDNY family. When I was contacted by Mike O’Reilly of the British 10km to help him create a fund for those 343 members of FDNY, the first person I contacted was Vic. Whether it was starting the NYC Marathon or running himself, he loved it. Vic spent many many hours at Ground Zero volunteering as a retired member of the FDNY and was more than happy to help those who gave their all on 911.
Only weeks after the 9-11 disaster, I vividly remember Horst Milde, the race director of the Berlin Marathon presenting a huge “United We Run” banner to Allan Steinfeld, then the NYRR President,at the foot of the Verranzano Bridge on the morning of the 2001 ING NYC Marathon. I was thrilled to be given permission to rise in the bucket of L-85 to capture the image prior to the start of a race many thought would never occur.
I was very lucky to have Vic, Joe Miccio, a FDNY Delegate and member of my E-295 in Queens joined me to run the 2002 British 10km in London. In London, we were met, invited and hosted at 10 Downing St by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wonderful wife Cherie. The Blairs took their time to explain much of their official residence, and also some English history to Joe, Vic and myself. I will treasure this experience forever.
Vic and I spent much time together, at the NYC Marathon, Elite Racing Events and in London. My wife, Lisa and I were deeply disturbed at seeing Vic after he contracted some odd complications and had to have most of his skull removed due to cancer. We are very sure he had spent too much time volunteering at Ground Zero which was going to take him away from us and his family shortly. Vic, however was an optimist, and kept a very positive view.
Unfortunately, his and our optimism ended in December of 2007. I was crushed. Here was a relatively young man, in his 50’s with lots of positive enthusiasm and a FDNY member who spent much of his time as a retired member trying to help recover those who had no idea what 20 psychopaths had planned on a beautiful September morning in 2001. As I listened to many of his closest friends and family speak, I learned more about this gentle, forgiving person who was a true hero. It made me think about what a special person he was. But I also remember one other thing, he loved a good ice cream sundae at the end of a good day or not so good day.
I will remember him, at each running race and every 9-11, as he may never be counted as part of the FDNY 343 who gave their all, which is totally wrong. Lt. Vic Navarra, of L-140 gave it his all as he spent many many days at Ground Zero and was taken from his friends, family and the running community by some kind of strange cancer.
I will enjoy my yearly Vanilla Ice Cream Sundae this Thursday, and I hope you can join me in remembering a truly wonderful human being.
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