I remember Jan. 15, 2009, like it was yesterday. That was the day I heard the words that sent a chill down my spine: We're unable. We may end up in the Hudson.
That day I was supposed to work the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift at the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control, but I was asked to come in two hours earlier. I was training for triathlons at that point, so I rode on the bike for about 90 minutes, showered and got to work. It was the middle of January and work tends to be slow after the new year. It was a normal day in the air traffic control tower until 3:27 p.m. when I heard pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger say over the transmission: Hit birds. We've lost thrust in both engines. We're turning back toward LaGuardia.
I turned the mic on, but I couldn't hear him. Apparently, he couldn't hear me either. As it turned out, he was repeating "may day" and I was telling him to turn left. We got the mic to work and eventually got the plane turned toward LaGuardia. I coordinated with the tarmac and told them he was returning. I offered him a runway, and I heard a single word from his transmission: unable. I offered him the other two runways at LaGuardia. He responded, "... Maybe Teterboro?" I started to coordinate with Teterboro Airport in New Jersey and left the mic hot so they could hear Sully in real time.
Time was of the essence.
"We're gonna be in the Hudson," I heard Sully say in staccato spurts.
And then the transmission cut out.
At first, I thought I wasn't hearing him right. It's like your brain refuses to hear the words because processing them would mean admitting to yourself that no matter what you did, you couldn't get this plane on a runway. It would mean that everything is out of your hands.
I cleared his path to the Hudson. I notified the Coast Guard and the NYPD. And that was it. There was nothing else I could do. I kept thinking, I am going to be part of the worst aviation incident in modern times. I didn't know everyone was going to survive. I assumed everyone was going to die. I spent 45 minutes thinking that, but I had to continue working. I went through the motions like a robot. I started preparing a statement. I felt the weight of the world.
Finally, my colleague delivered the words that would change my life, "They survived." When he first said it, I thought he was messing with me. It was surreal. I couldn't see what was going on in real-time. Making it home, turning on the TV, it was all over the news, and I was seeing all of the passengers who were so grateful to be alive. I kept thinking, What if it had turned out differently? I was looking at all these people who could have been dead.
That year, 2009, was also the last time I ran a marathon. I did the Boston Marathon in 2 hours, 47 minutes. I was really fast back then. I ran it a couple of months after the incident as a tribute to the "Miracle on the Hudson" family. And they really have become a family: We have this shared experience that bonds us. We still meet every year, alternating between New York and Charlotte, the plane's original destination. For all of them, each year is another year that they almost didn't have.
I am a New York kid, and I have always wanted to run the New York City Marathon -- mostly because my dad did so in 1985. I qualified in 2010 but tore my hamstring right before the race. I had to stop running for six weeks, so I let my dream go -- until last year. I started thinking about New York again after I watched my sister run it. Shalane Flanagan's history-making performance was also awe-inspiring. Watching her cross the finish line, pumping her fist, going "f--- yeah," all of that went into this, "Oh god, I want to do this again" revelation. Plus, we are coming up on the 10-year anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson.
My running New York ties back to 2009. I got a spot in the marathon because I called the race organizers and told them my story. It's a marriage of the two most important things in my life: Running, which was something that brought my dad and me together many years ago, and the Miracle on the Hudson, which shaped the latter part of my life. To bring those two aspects of my life together brings my life full circle.
It doesn't matter if I run a three-hour marathon or slow walk a six-hour marathon, this one is for my Miracle on the Hudson family.