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Mo's Olympic Journal: Feeling good as race day nears


Photo: Team Canada poses for a group picture at its training camp in Kamen, Germany. (Photo courtesy former Badger Hilary Stellingwerff - @stellingwerff on Twitter)

By Mohammed Ahmed

Hello again Badger fans!

I have been unable to find Internet access over the last couple of days to post, so I apologize for that.

It is hard to believe the week in Germany is almost coming to an end. I don't know where the week went!

Other than running, eating, hanging out with teammates and sleeping I have not accomplished too much. Training is going really well and I feel I have gotten into shape a little more with the workouts I have been able to do over the last few weeks, and especially the last few days.

I did some kilometer repeats on Wednesday and I averaged a little faster than race pace (2:43), which I was really happy with. On Saturday, I did four-mile tempo with Cam Levins and we ran them all under five minutes per mile, which was a lot faster than planned.

During this period of time you have to have a lot of confidence to do well, and I believe I am mentally at a place that I have not been since before Big Tens and Payton Jordan. (Note: Ahmed ran his Olympic qualifying time of 27:34.64 at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational in April).

Now I need to mentally screw my head tight and not get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the race and atmosphere. 

Although I am in Germany, one of the most beautiful places in the world, I have been unable to find time to sightsee. The only sights I have seen thus far are places I ran by or through, but I will try to get out for a little bit and walk around the area before I head back to London on Wednesday.

I have my last major workout before my race on Tuesday and I am looking forward to it as it signals how close the competition is -- as well as some downtime afterwards.

Mohammed Ahmed

Mo's Olympic Journal: Training camp opens in Germany


Photo: Home away from home in the Olympic Village

By Mohammed Ahmed

Hello again Badger fans! Greetings from Kamen, Germany.

The last afternoon and night (July 23rd) at the Olympic Village was filled with great memories. At mid afternoon we went over to the Canadian fitting area to get fitted on our gear, and to say we are spoiled is an understatement. We got to try on 26 different pairs of items that did not include the gear Athletics Canada gives us. All in all, we have tons of gear and I won't be needing to use any of my normal clothes I brought with me!

I went for my run at Victory Park  and I had couple of joggers attempt to drop me, but they got denied once I started running at six-minute per mile pace. I did some float-around 200s at the practice track afterwards and I got to meet legendary Somalian 1500-meter runner and 1987 world champion Abdi Bile sitting at the side of the track.

Afterwards, I went to Westfield Mall and met up with my good friend and former training partner, Ryan, and his girlfriend, Sophie, who were vacationing in the area. It was great seeing some familiar faces to make me feel like home in London.  

I did not have a great sleep the last night there because I woke up to the practice fireworks for the opening ceremonies at midnight and could not fall back to sleep. How inconsiderate, London (LOL)! The little sleep made the trip to Germany hard because I was sleepy.
We got into Kamen, Germany, yesterday afternoon after an eight-hour travel day. After two hours of relaxing I went out for my run with Cam Levins, who will be racing with me in the 10K and also racing the 5K afterwards. I went for a 75-minute run and did a little pick-up in the middle of the run and it felt really good.

After the run, I came back to my room and passed out almost as soon as I got back. I slept nine hours, which was really good, but after a disastrous sleep the night before and the journey over to Germany I expected it. I forced myself to get up at around 8 local time, though I could have used couple more hours of sleep, and went for a 30 minute jog.

Waking up early in the morning and jogging gets me to acclimate quicker to the time change. Afterwards, I ate my breakfast, checked out the facilities and relaxed in my huge room.

The set up we have here in Kamen is phenomenal, we are at the "Kamen Sport Center" and we have everything we can ever need at our convenience. We have a world-class medical team (doctor, physio-therapists, massage therapists, etc.), other staff, coaches and training facilities (the track is a two-minute walk from the residence, and we have great trail system a seven-minute jog away).

With such a great setup I should be able to train hard and get fit to take on the best in the world.

I am off to do my first workout session since last Saturday, hopefully it flushes me out of the jet lag I am feeling

Mohammed Ahmed

Mo's Olympic Journal: Welcome to London


Mohammed Ahmed will compete for his native Canada at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Before he runs in the men's 10,000 meters on Aug. 4, Ahmed will provide regular updates on his travels for UWBadgers.com.

By Mohammed Ahmed

Hello Badger Fans! Greetings from London.

I got to London safely after a decently long travel day on Saturday. I flew from Madison to Chicago and then straight to London. The flight did not feel too long because I was passed out after an hour in the air and didn't wake up until an hour before landing time.

The travel to the Olympic Village was surprisingly long, though. After landing at 11 a.m., I did not get into the village until two hours later. The bus took forever and we had to go through several checkpoints for security. The security is intense and, every time we leave the village, we have to get checked again and we have to have our accreditation pass on us at all times.  

The village is really nice. It feels like I am at campus with so many athletes walking around. After arrival to the village I got set up at my room and I tried to get accustomed to the cell phone they gave us and meet my teammates. I tried sleeping a little, but I could not fall asleep, so I went for my run with the lads.

I went for a 50-minute run with Alex Genest (steeplechaser) and Nate Brannen (1500 meters) and then did some strides at the practice track (by the way, the track felt super fast and it is a similar surface to what we should be competing on). I slept really well last night and I don't feel too bad walking around today (Monday), so hopefully I should be accustomed to the time change soon enough.

I fly out Tuesday morning to Germany for a pre-Olympic training camp and will be coming back to London on Aug. 1. I won't participate on the Opening Ceremony, which is a little sad, but I should have a lot of fun hanging out with the best Canadian runners and some Germans.

I will try to get another post to you guys once I am in Germany.

Until then,
Mohammed Ahmed

Lucas at Large: Ahmed's dream season not over yet

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There was Mohammed Ahmed's fifth-place finish in the NCAA cross country championship that helped spark Wisconsin to its fifth national team title the in sport, and first since 2005.
"One of the greatest moments of my life," he said.
There was Ahmed's run in the 10,000 meters at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational that easily met the Olympic "A" qualifying standard and broke the school record by nearly 30 seconds.
"A lot of pressure was relieved from my shoulders," he said.
Ahmed_sm.jpgThere was Ahmed's win in the 5000 at the Big Ten outdoor championships that was a meet record and one of two first-place medals UW captured in winning its first crown since 2007.
"The way we came together was true teamwork," he said.
And there was Ahmed's seventh-place finish in the 5K at the NCAA outdoor meet that validated his All-America status a second time despite limited training because of an Achilles injury.
"I wasn't happy with the way I finished, but running is a great metaphor for life," he said.
In other words, you take the good with the very good -- or the exceptional -- in Ahmed's case. Given his list of individual and team accomplishments, what would rank at the top of his list?
"Winning nationals as a team, that's number one," he said. "Cross country was a magical year. The title will be something I'll cherish for the rest of my life. It was a beautiful moment."
Beautiful, he said, because of the chemistry with Elliot Krause, Ryan Collins, Reed Connor and Maverick Darling. Beautiful because it rewarded coach Mick Byrne with a much-deserved title.
It was also beautiful, he said, because of what it told him about his running skills. "Finishing fifth told me that I belonged at the top of the NCAA," Ahmed said. "That helped me a lot."
Ahmed spent the indoor season "training very hard with the focus on going to the Olympics -- and with my first race (the Payton Jordan) I got that out of the way."
That's where the confidence gained from his success competing during the cross country season really kicked in -- in what was, at the time in late April, the fastest 10,000 meters race in the world.
"I thought to myself, 'If you can race with the guys in the NCAA, you can keep up with them, why not here?"' he said, convincing himself that "I can definitely do it."
That confidence carried over to the outdoor season and the Big Ten meet in front of the home fans. "Everyone was doing it for the seniors," said Ahmed, a junior from St. Catharines, Ontario.
Few, he noted, will ever forget senior Kyle Jefferson's true grit during his leg of the 4x400 relay.
"The amount of toughness that he displayed is going to be his legacy," Ahmed said, "and something we talk about every time we see each other or at team reunions.
"It didn't take one person to win the Big Ten title. It took everybody. It took throwers, distance guys, sprinters. Everybody came together. It was a great feeling."
Despite dealing with his Achilles injury, Ahmed is feeling much better in advance of Sunday's departure for Calgary and the Canadian Olympic Trials. He will race Wednesday in the 10,000 meters.
Ahmed is one of two runners who met the "A" qualifying standard. The other, Cameron Levins, who won the Payton Jordan event and claimed two NCAA titles, will compete in only the 5000, though he will double at the Olympics.
"Physically, I'm at a good spot; I'm not burned out yet, I still feel fresh," Ahmed said. "It's all mental now. And I'm going to treat this race just like it was any other race.
"I've learned that you've got to use the nervousness to your advantage. It's good energy if you use it to get ready. I'm not putting this race on a pedestal just because it's the Olympic trials."
Ahmed is looking forward to running for Canada in London.
In a sense, the truest sense, he said, he would be also running for the Badgers.
"Being a Wisconsin Badger," he said, "whether it's my identity on the track as a runner or that of a student, is something that is going to be a part of me forever and ever."

Achievements of the Year: Ahmed runs Olympic qualifying time


Over the course of two weeks, UW Athletics will look back on the Badgers' biggest accomplishments during the 2011-12 season. The first week (June 18-22) highlights the top five individual achievements, with team accomplishments highlighted June 25-29.

Mohammed Ahmed's return to the track turned out to be an introduction to the world stage.

After redshirting the indoor season following an outstanding cross country campaign that saw him win the Big Ten title and earn All-America honors with a fifth-place finish at the NCAA championship, Ahmed had set his sights on taking a run at the automatic qualifying standard for the Olympic Games in the 10,000 meters.

He planned on giving himself one chance to hit that mark, at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational on April 29 in Palo Alto, Calif. Turns out, all Ahmed needed was that one shot.

The St. Catharines, Ontario, native clocked in at 27 minutes, 34.64 seconds to not only achieve the Olympic "A" standard but also smash the 36-year-old Big Ten record in the event.

Ahmed's time stood as the No. 6 mark in the world for several weeks.

The performance also helped propel Ahmed to a Big Ten title in the 5000 meters two weeks later as he boosted the Badgers to the conference team title. He also scored All-America honors in the 5000 with a seventh-place finish at the NCAA outdoor championships.

Now, all that stands between Ahmed and a spot on his native Canada's team for the Olympics in London is a top-three finish at next week's 2012 Canadian Olympic Trials in Calgary.

- Full story: Ahmed qualifies for Olympics with school-record run

Lucas at Large: Buckinghams a showcase for Badgers' best


- Buckinghams Winners  |  Watch the Show

Wisconsin men's cross country coach Mick Byrne generously described his musical tastes with the confession that "I'm all over the place.''

Byrne has downloaded everything from Real Estate to Bon Iver, from The Cure to Coldplay, from Bruce Springsteen to Eric Hutchinson, from Adele to Mumford & Sons.

Byrne is likely to add to his list after hearing "The Big Shady Trees'' (pictured above) perform Monday night during the fourth annual Buckinghams at the Overture Center.

Elliot Krause was on drums, Zach Mellon was on guitar and Will Ottow was the vocalist for a cover version of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy.''

What was the genesis for the group's name, The Big Shady Trees?

"We're all tall and slim,'' Krause reasoned.

Krause, Mellon and Ottow all run for Byrne and the Badgers. How crazy is that?

"We do have a lot of musical talent on the team,'' Byrne volunteered. "When we go on trips, the guys will sometimes bring guitars and they're singing all the time. It's hilarious.''

Funny thing is, they know when it's time to get down to work -- on the track and in the classroom.

Last November, the Badgers won a national championship in men's cross country, the fifth in school history and first since 2005.

Monday night at the Buckinghams, the highest cumulative GPA team awards went to men's and women's cross country.

"We sit down before the season and as a team determine what goals we would like to set,'' said Caitlin Comfort, a senior from Peoria. "Highest GPA is one of them, and we take a lot of pride in it.''

Elliot Krause, a senior from Appleton, pointed out that athletes are frequently stereotyped -- stigmas are unfairly but routinely attached -- and this type of academic recognition helps dispel myths.

It definitely starts, too, at the top with Byrne.

"Mick's general philosophy is that the whole college experience isn't just about running,'' said Krause, a two-time Academic All-American. "But he doesn't baby us through the process.

"You have to take the initiative and do things yourself.''

Byrne's approach promotes the development of study habits and discipline, Krause said. "He's developing you as a person so when you leave college you can be successful,'' he added.

In February, Byrne's Badgers were cited as the Scholar Team of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

"When I came here four years ago,'' Byrne said, "one of the challenges that I threw out to the guys was, 'Look, we have to work harder in the classroom.'

"I felt like they weren't putting their best foot forward and I chose to keep on their case about it. We encouraged them and we kicked them in the butt when they needed to be kicked in the butt.

"The end result has been that they've gotten a little bit better every semester.''

The Badgers finished the cross country season with a team grade-point average of 3.08.

"It's not acceptable for them to be below 3.00,'' Byrne said. "That's the least we can ask from them. It's a high standard (academically), but our athletes compete at a high standard.

"If they can do that on the track -- or in cross country -- why can't they do that in the classroom? It certainly starts with me and what my expectations are. But it also comes from the older kids.''

Krause acknowledged the necessity for that kind of accountability and leadership.

"The younger guys, especially the freshmen are always looking up to the older guys,'' he said, "and when they see them taking care of business, on and off the track, that sets a good example.

"It's like, 'These guys are getting it done in the classroom. That's what is expected of me.'''

Comfort was one of the Performance Award winners Monday night. These student-athletes are nominated by their advisors or learning specialists for their academic work and improvement.

"When you come in as a freshman everything is totally new to you,'' Comfort said. "So it's really about getting your feet on the ground and realizing what you're here for.

"Ultimately, you're here to get a degree and obviously athletics comes after that. But it's also about making sacrifices; staying in on the weekends to get homework done.

"It's about coming back to your dorm or your apartment right after practice is over and working on homework. It's about waking up an hour or two early to study some more before a test.

"It's about time management and balancing (academics and athletics).''

But you have to know what your priorities are, she emphasized.

"You'll hear everyone say, 'It's all about balancing your time' and there's a reason everyone says it, and that's because it really is the most important thing,'' Krause said.

"But you also have to give yourself a little bit of time to breath and relax every once in awhile. Mick has this thing about overcooked turkey and how it doesn't taste very good.''

That would be a Byrne metaphor on life whereby he's suggesting that the student-athlete can fall prey to the stress or pressure of expectations within the classroom and on the playing field or track.

"Eventually you're going to overcook yourself,'' Krause said.

In this context, the Buckinghams are a breath of fresh air since they represent a celebration of academic excellence and achievement through community service and other vehicles.

Moreover, there is a special bonding component to the event -- rallying all sports on campus.

"Last year, I got the invite and Mick told me that I should go to the Buckinghams,'' Krause said, "and I was real reluctant. I thought it was another formal event that would be real dry and boring.''

Once exposed to what the Buckinghams are all about, he was hooked.

"I love it,'' Comfort said. "You rarely find all the athletes in one venue at one time. So it's kind of nice to see everybody together -- all the different athletes from all the different sports.

"You get to mingle and you get to catch up.

"It's nice to see everyone dressed up and not in athletic gear.''

Byrne has become a big proponent of the Buckinghams.

"I love this, I absolutely love it,'' he said. "It's a got a great feel about it to the point where I've encouraged all of our kids to go.

"It's good to see that there's a reward for doing well in the classroom; a reward for getting involved in the community; a reward for getting involved in leadership programs.

"That's all good and there's a trickle down affect to all of our athletes.''

There are some unique twists to the Buckinghams, like the red carpet leading into the theater.

There's also the innocence and freshness of the performers.

Whether it's women's hockey player Katy Josephs playing the piano and singing "Only Hope'' by Mandy Moore ...

Whether it's women's rower Kendall Schmidt performing an original tap dance routine to "Turn up the Music'' by Chris Brown.

Whether it's women's cross country's Megan Beers singing "Never Alone'' by Barlow Girl ...

Whether it's quarterback Joel Stave playing the piano and singing "Drops of Jupiter'' by Train...

Whether it's women's cross country's Lavinia Jurkiewicz ballroom dancing with her partner to "Rabiosa'' by Shakira ...

Whether it's linebacker A.J. Fenton playing the guitar and softball player Kendall Grimm singing "Firework'' by Katy Perry ...

Whether it's The Big Shady Trees ...

It all works.

"Any opportunity we get as administrators or coaches,'' Byrne said, "to recognize our student-athletes for their achievements is great, and this is a fun way of doing that."

Big Ten champs vault to No. 1 in national poll


Just two days after proving themselves the class of the Big Ten for the 13th-consecutive season, the Badgers now find themselves atop the list of the nation's top teams, as well.

For the first time since 2007, the Wisconsin men's cross country team is ranked No. 1 in the USTFCCCA National Coaches Poll.

UW received seven of the possible 12 first-place votes to vault Oklahoma State for the top position in the latest poll, which was released Tuesday by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. The Cowboys picked up the remaining five first-place votes and come in at No. 2.

BYU, Colorado and Oklahoma round out the top five.

"Of course it's an honor to be ranked No. 1 in the country, and I'm very happy for our athletes," said fourth-year UW head coach Mick Byrne. "But that does nothing to change the challenges ahead of us."

The move to No. 1 comes on the heels of the Badgers' dominant win Sunday at the 2011 Big Ten Championship, where UW used a team score of 17 points to claim its 13th-straight conference crown. Indiana, which finished runner-up to the Badgers at the Big Ten meet, follows No. 6 Stanford and checks in at No. 7 in the national poll.

Behind the Hoosiers, No. 8 Portland and a tie for No. 9 between Iona and Princeton round out the national top 10.

Byrne is pleased voters took notice of his team's performance at the conference meet, but he says the role of favorite for the upcoming NCAA championship hasn't changed.

"Oklahoma State is the two-time defending champion, returns everyone from last year and is the clear favorite for the NCAA meet," Byrne said. "They have looked fantastic this season and Girma Mecheso hasn't even competed yet. That's a guy that was seventh at the national meet last year.

"They are the team to beat."

Byrne was cautious to put much stock in rankings heading into the heart of championship season.

"Coach (Martin) Smith's teams often fly under the radar, but what Oklahoma did to compete with Oklahoma State at the Big 12 meet has them on my radar," Byrne said. "The same thing goes for Coach (Mark) Wetmore, because Colorado is always a team that shows up and performs on the day. You can count on it.

"Plus, we know that BYU and Stanford both have very talented teams and will be a factor when we get to Terre Haute."

For Wisconsin, the return to No. 1 marks UW's 22nd week as the nation's top-ranked team since 1998. Only Stanford, at 31, has been atop the USTFCCCA rankings more often than the Badgers.

Wisconsin, Stanford, Colorado and Arkansas are the only programs to be ranked in each of the 99 polls released since the start of the 1998 season.


UW men's cross country coach Mick Byrne was paying Ryan Collins a compliment when he put the Virginia transfer in context with one of his former distance runners, Landon Peacock.

A year ago, Peacock won his first individual Big Ten championship while sparking the Badgers to their 12th-consecutive league crown -- which they will be defending Sunday at the University of Illinois Arboretum in Champaign.

"He's not an artist like Landon,'' Byrne said of Collins. "He's not as far out there as Landon was.''

Byrne later clarified his use of the word "artist.''

"I wasn't referring to him being an artist in the sport,'' he said, "as much as I was referring to him in general terms. Landon was a little eccentric. He was a dreamer. He'd get into his own little world.

"He wouldn't mean to. He was trying to focus on the race and he'd be off drawing some landscape in his mind. Maybe that's why he was such a good athlete. It didn't faze him.''

Meanwhile, Byrne said Collins brings a "certain amount of calmness to the team'' in addition to bringing "this amazing passion for what he does'' which has led to a seamless transition as a teammate.

"Ryan is very much in tune with what's going on,'' Byrne said, "and in a very positive way he also has a great perspective on what we do. He kind of has that sense about him.

"Like, 'This is cross country, this is what we do' but we're playing a football game Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio, and what they're doing is a huge deal.

"So let's go watch the game and let's not talk about cross country.''

Byrne endorses that attitude in his athletes.

"From a coach's perspective, they have a great team and school spirit,'' he said. "They're not going to spend Saturday night in a hotel room worrying about what they have to do on Sunday.

"They know what they have to do. They know what Indiana is going to throw at them. They're excited about it. At the same time, for two or three hours Saturday night they're going to be Badgers.''

So they'll be watching Wisconsin-Ohio State from their team hotel, he said.

You can tell Bryne likes this team a lot -- his No. 2-ranked cross country team. Mostly, he likes how his runners compete and take care of their business and "get after it'' every day.

"They do the work, and they're real serious about it,'' he said. "They're real motivated, real determined and real focused on not just this Sunday but what's coming down the pipeline.''

That would be the NCAA championship on Nov. 21 in Terre Haute, Ind. Byrne said Collins has "kind of meshed'' with that vision and his new teammates and "they're all on the same page.''

The Badgers are returning four scorers from last season's Big Ten meet: Mohammed Ahmed (fourth), Elliot Krause (fifth), Maverick Darling (sixth) and Reed Connor (12th). Collins replaces Peacock.

"I believe we've got five guys who have a really good shot at winning the individual title,'' Byrne said. "They're all leaders. Every one of those guys knows what's at stake here and down the road.

"Over the last two meets the most important thing was that we came out of them not banged up. We came out of these meets able to continue with our training plan.

"It's a process as you head from that early part of the season into the championship part.''

Wisconsin has won each of its last three meetings: the Orange and Blue Preview (Champaign, Ill.), the Bill Dellinger Invitational (Springfield, Ore.) and its own Wisconsin adidas Invitational (Zimmer Championship Course).

While the Badgers were competing in Oregon on Oct. 1, there was mini-reunion with a handful of former UW distance greats like Chris Solinsky, Matt Tegenkamp, Simon Bairu and Evan Jager, who joined Byrne's current athletes to take in the football Badgers' win over Nebraska.

"They came down from Portland where they're training,'' Byrne said. "And it's always a positive when our young guys get to see those guys and be around them.''

Success, after all, breeds success.

Men's cross country climbs to No. 2 in national poll

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UW Athletic Communications

Following its first week of competition in the 2011 season, the Wisconsin men's cross country team continues its rise in the national rankings.

UW moves up to No. 2 in this week's national coaches poll, which was released Tuesday by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. The Badgers -- who received one first-place vote -- jump Stanford in the newest rankings, moving up one spot from their previous No. 3 ranking.

Last week, the team had its first taste of competition, competing in the Badger Opener. Falling just short of Marquette, UW earned a second-place team finish with a score of 29.

Sophomore Drew Shields led the way, finishing with a time of 18 minutes, 20 seconds and earning the individual win. Freshman Alex Hatz gave the Badgers another top-five finisher, coming in at 18:28.5 for fourth place.   

In addition to their new national ranking, Wisconsin remains rated No. 1 in the Great Lakes Region, according to the USTFCCCA.

The Badgers prepare this week for their first road trip of the season with the Orange and Blue Preview taking place on Friday. The 6-kilometer race will be held in Champaign, Ill., and is scheduled to begin at 5:15 p.m.

USTFCCCA Men's Cross Country Rankings - National Coaches Poll

RankSchool (1st-Place Votes)
PointsRegionLast Week
1Oklahoma State (10)
2Wisconsin (1)
344Great Lakes3
3Stanford (1)
284Great Lakes8
9Florida State
11Northern Arizona
13NC State
192South Central15
21New Mexico
23Notre Dame
88Great Lakes23
72South Central24
26Ohio State
68Great Lakes25
28Eastern Kentucky
30North Carolina

Others Receiving Votes: Penn State 20, Arizona State 16, Lamar 6, Washington 5, Michigan 3, Alabama 3, Texas A&M 2, William and Mary 2, Michigan State 1, Columbia 1.

Dropped Out: No. 29 Arizona State

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


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.''