UT athletes remembering 9/11

UT athletes talk about where they were, how they were affected

ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL
Tennessee softball player and USA National team member Lauren Gibson poses at the News Sentinel on Wednesday. Gibson, who was a 10-year-old fifth-grader on Sept. 11, 2001, remembers the day while living in Pasadena, Md., about 35 miles northeast of Washington, D.C.

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2011

ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL Tennessee softball player and USA National team member Lauren Gibson poses at the News Sentinel on Wednesday. Gibson, who was a 10-year-old fifth-grader on Sept. 11, 2001, remembers the day while living in Pasadena, Md., about 35 miles northeast of Washington, D.C.

Lauren Gibson got a sick feeling in her stomach when she saw her uncle's car pull up to her elementary school to pick her up on Sept. 11, 2001.

"There was a little panic when I saw his car, because my mom or dad always picked me up,'' said Gibson, a junior All-American second baseman on the Tennessee softball team who played for the USA National team in July.

"I was in fifth grade when the attack happened, and I remember I knew something was going on, but I didn't know what. A lot of my classmates were getting pulled out of class randomly.''

Gibson grew up in Pasadena, Md., about 35 miles northeast of Washington, D.C.

"My uncle and mother both worked near the Pentagon," Gibson said. "My uncle told me right away my mother wasn't in the area when the attack happened.''

Gibson said that as far back as she can remember, people who live or work near the nation's capital have been conscious of its importance.

"A lot of people thought it would be a primary (terrorism) target,'' she said. "When you think of the United States, that's the first spot you think about, Washington D.C.''

Gibson, who was 10 years old at the time of the attack, said her uncle explained to her what happened on the way home from school.

"When I got home I watched it all day, replay after replay,'' she said. "My first thoughts were, who was in this and why did this happen?''

Gibson said the attack gave her a different perspective on veterans, and wearing the red, white, and blue uniform of the USA National team gave her even more of an appreciation for what happened on that fateful day 10 years ago.

"After that happened, I really had more appreciation for everything our soldiers and our security forces do for us,'' Gibson said. "This summer, playing for the USA team in Oklahoma, I met the Wounded Warrior Team, and that was a great experience.

"Those were the veterans (of Iraq and Afghanistan) wars who had body parts blown off and play softball.''

Gibson said the memory of 9/11 goes through her mind before most every game.

"The 9/11 effect for me, is when I walk across the field and I stand there for the national anthem,'' she said, "it really means something ... it means a lot.''

Matt Simms

Tennessee senior quarterback Matt Simms can still see the World Trade Center in his mind's eye.

"On Route 208, you come around the bend, and you see the New York skyline, right there,'' he said. "The Twin Towers are what we were used to seeing. It was like that was the heart of our country, the pinnacle of our wealth. That will always be a lasting memory.''

Simms hails from Franklin Lakes, N.J., a well-to-do bedroom community of New York City that many Wall Street workers and Manhattan managers call home.

"A guy on my basketball travel team lost his mother and father, and he ended up living with friends in town,'' Simms said. "I had another friend, his father walked home from the city because all the roads were closed. He got back at 8 or 9 at night.

"My friend said when his father got back, he didn't even recognize him; he was covered in dust, and he looked like a zombie.''

Sept. 11 represents mixed sentiments for the Simms family, as it's the birthday of Matt's older sister, Deirdre.

"It's like, 'happy birthday,' but we all remember that day,'' Matt Simms said.

Matt was a seventh grader at Franklin Avenue Middle School at the time of the attacks. He remembers a brief conversation in the hallway with a classmate who told him his mother's flight had been canceled because of an accident at the airport.

"There were all sorts of rumors flying around,'' he said. "Around noon, the student body was called into the school auditorium. Our principal was sitting up there, and everyone was wondering what was going on.

"She said 'there has been an attack on the U.S., and two planes crashed into the World Trade Center,' '' Simms recalled. "She said 'anyone who has family that works in or near the World Trade Center is dismissed from school.'

"About 60 percent of the students got up and left, right then and there.''

Simms said the school started contacting parents, and buses were called to get students home early.

"Everyone's reaction was 'Why?' '' he said. "We just wanted to know why, and everyone was so upset.

"We couldn't move on. The Twin Towers were a symbol of the New York metropolitan area."

Tobias Harris

Tobias Harris was sitting in his fifth grade class on New York's Long Island when his teacher came into the room and told him the World Trade Center had been attacked.

"You never forget something like that,'' said Harris, who is back at UT attending classes during the NBA lockout after playing one season for the Vols. "The teachers checked on our parents before they said anything."

The first-round NBA draft pick remembers being under the impression that his father, Torrel Harris Sr., had been headed to the city that day.

"I remember I didn't know for sure if he was safe until I got home,'' Tobias Harris said.

Torrel Harris Sr., who still has a business office in Manhattan, said he had actually been in the World Trade Center district the night before.

Harris Sr. said he avoided taking his sons to the Ground Zero site immediately after the attack because "it was all taped off, and they were still looking for pieces of people; it was too creepy for kids.''

Tobias Harris, however, said in the following years he made many trips by the site of the attack while in the city with his various travel basketball teams.

"We would always go and pay our honors,'' Tobias Harris said. "I'll never forget how scared I was when it happened. At the time, I worried they (terrorists) would come to our house.''

Harris said the Twin Tower attacks weren't often discussed in his school, because many of the students had parents and relatives who were affected, and the school was sensitive to that.

"The one thing, after that attacked happened, it seemed like people started acting a lot nicer to each other and caring for each other more,'' he said. "It felt like the city bonded.''

Brittany Sheffey

Brittany Sheffey remembers the windows were open at Bellport Middle School on Sept. 11, 2001, and when she glanced outside and noticed parents were hurriedly picking up children, she knew something was wrong.

"I didn't exactly realize what was happening until a few minutes later, when our principal came on the PA system and told us that the trade center had been attacked,'' said Sheffey, who was in a meeting for selected peer mediators when she noticed something amiss.

Sheffey, a 22-year-old senior on Tennessee's cross country and track and field teams from Bellport, N.Y., said she looked to the sky after school and saw remnants from the attack some 60 miles away.

"You could see the smoke in the air over the city from where I lived,'' Sheffey said. "I think everyone in our school was shocked; I felt very vulnerable.''

Sheffey said the attack prompted discussions in classes at her school.

"Our history teacher was talking about us going to war,'' she said. "We had split opinions on whether or not we should. We knew we had to do something to protect ourselves.''

The attacks also affected Sheffey's track career; though she was only in seventh grade, she was already competing on the high school team.

"When the (terrorism) level was up to orange, we couldn't go into the city and compete, and our meets there were canceled,'' she said. "Our school didn't want to take the risk of having children under their care in there."

Sheffey said she will never forget that day, and she believes it has left scars on many from the New York metropolitan area.

"You think of New York, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty, and the World Trade Center — that made our skyline, and it's eerie and sad to see the Trade Center gone,'' she said. "It makes you thankful for the fact you are here, and you say a prayer for the people you know aren't here any longer.''

Sheffey said the father of one of her good friends was in the second tower prior to it being attacked.

"He felt the impact from the first tower and got knocked out of his desk,'' she said. "He told the man in the cubicle next to him that he didn't know what was happening, but they should leave.''

Nathalie Mansson

Tennessee senior golfer Nathalie Mansson was home alone in Stockholm, Sweden, left to her own devices to digest the World Trade Center attacks.

"I had just gotten home from school, and I turned on the TV and I saw the plane go into the tower,'' said Mansson, whose home in Stockholm was six time zones ahead of where the news was breaking. "I didn't understand at first what it was. I thought it was just some trick video or something.''

Mansson's parents weren't yet home from work, and her younger brother was in day care at a neighbor's home.

"It was horrible,'' said Mansson, who was 12 years old at the time. "I had heard about terrorism before, but I didn't really understand it. Right now, just talking about it, I get goose bumps.''

Mansson said she has watched several documentaries about the attack over the years, and it was discussed throughout her high school years.

"We talked about it a lot in school,'' she said. "U.S. goes into places so often, Afghanistan, Iraq, it makes the U.S. a target for terrorist attacks, because it's involved in things like that,'' she said. "I know the U.S. tries to help the people, but you also hear the U.S. was involved (in recent wars) because of oil.''

Joanna Henderson

Tennessee freshman tennis player Joanna Henderson was 7 years old when the Twin Towers were attacked, but she remembers that day on her school campus well.

"One of the head teachers came in and spoke to each class,'' said Henderson, who attended Robert Gordon College, a K-12 school in Edinburgh, Scotland. "It was hard to comprehend at that age — really any age — what had happened. We didn't understand the whole background, but we understood the severity.''

Henderson, who won three British championships in her youth tennis career, said the attack had a devastating effect on her country, too.

"I think it doesn't matter where you are when something that devastating happens,'' she said. "It remains with everyone. America is such a big place, and it was such a major event. If something that major could happen to America, that's alarming for everyone else.''

Henderson said her school followed up on the event, but not to the point of going overboard.

"They did an assembly on it in the aftermath, but the school didn't go into too much depth,'' Henderson said. "I think they felt it was up to your parents to explain it.''

Henderson said she remembers watching the gripping footage of the event when she got home from school.

"When people were talking about it, it was hard to imagine,'' she said. "Once I saw it, it was such an emotional time. Your heart goes out to everyone.''

Martina Moravcikova

Former Tennessee swimmer Martina Moravcikova will never forget how the events of 9/11 unfolded before her and her family while they were on vacation.

"I was in Greece to enjoy some sun with my grandmother, aunt and cousin; I remember it like it was yesterday,'' said Moravcikova, who grew up in the Czech Republic, first in Carlsbad, then Prague. "We were walking down the beach to the farmers market to get nectarines and peaches, and there was this old-school TV shop, with the TVs in the big front window, and they were all seeing the same thing.

"I was first looking at it, and I was like, what is this, a joke? A movie? For me, it was like a Hollywood movie. I did not think this was reality.''

Moravcikova, then 13, said the language barrier prevented her from understanding the Greek reports. It wasn't until her grandmother got a phone call that she learned what had happened.

"My grandmother was very worried, and we pretty much went back to the apartment we were saying at and started packing,'' she said. "Me and my cousin just couldn't understand what was happening. It just seemed unreal; it was something I would have never imagined.''

Once back in Prague, Moravcikova, who completed her UT career last season, said she remembers the city and nation having a tribute for the victims of the terrorist attack.

"We were in school when we observed a three-minute silence,'' she said. "The sirens went off and the entire city and state pretty much stopped. No offices were working for those three minutes.

"This was just something you would never expect — not just because America is the military superpower, but how could someone lack so many morals to do something like that was distressing to me.''

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