Lucas at Large: Images of 9/11 still fresh for Byrne

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Sunday will mark 10 years since the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center that claimed nearly 3,000 lives. Many will have flashbacks, including UW men's cross country coach Mick Byrne, who headed up his own program at Iona College in New York for 19 seasons before joining the Badgers in 2008.


Mick Byrne remembered stopping at a neighborhood deli for his morning coffee and hard roll when he heard the news: a plane had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

Byrne immediately returned to his home in City Island, N.Y.; which sits on the western end of Long Island Sound, south of Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx and east of Eastchester Bay.

"From my front porch I can see the whole skyline of lower Manhattan, and I saw the smoke,'' Byrne said. "At that stage, I don't think it hit home exactly what was going on.''

So he didn't alter his plans. He drove his oldest son, Aidan, to school and headed for work at Iona College, which is about 40 minutes north of Manhattan in Westchester County.

"By the time I got there the second plane had hit the South Tower,'' Byrne said.

"Then we all knew what was going on.''

Byrne picked up his son and they returned home.

"It was very sobering,'' said Byrne, knowing that many of the workers in lower Manhattan lived in Westchester County. "There were a lot of people from that area in the towers.''

Byrne's wife, Mary Jo -- a physician's assistant in cardiology -- was called into help.

"My next memory was that night on City Island,'' he said, "and everybody getting together in restaurants and bars and kind of watching all the reports on television about what was going on.''

Two firefighters who lived on City Island lost their lives, Byrne added.

"As the days and weeks went on,'' he said, "you'd hear more and more from people who knew somebody that was killed. Everyone knew someone who knew someone ...''

Byrne recognized the name of a former runner who had been out for cross country at Iona for only six to eight weeks before leaving the team. He really didn't know him beyond that point.

But he was one of the 341 New York City firefighters who died.

"I remember my wife waking me up one night because she thought there was a fire in our house,'' Byrne recounted. "I jumped out of bed and ran into the kid's rooms.

"After checking all the rooms upstairs, I ran downstairs and even checked out the furnace. And there was nothing. I ran outside and couldn't see anything on the street.''

Finally it dawned on him.

"It was the smoke from the Twin Towers that had blown in our direction,'' he said. "My recollection was that it was a number of days afterward; it could have been a week or two weeks.

"I'll never forget that feeling.''

Two years ago, the Badgers competed at the Iona Meet of Champions in the Bronx and Byrne took the team to Ground Zero. He's a frequent visitor whenever he's back in New York City.

"If I'm downtown, I always stop there,'' he said. "It's important. We should never forget.''
ON WISCONSIN