“You either live in love or fear,” Josh Reed said. “That day the only thing I felt was fear.”
Anyone who lived through 9/11 remembers exactly where they were when the planes hit the World Trade Center. For Josh Reed of Mashpee, and Kevin Cahill of Nanuet, New York, they were a few blocks away, working on the trading floor of the NY Stock Exchange.
Cahill walked out after the first plane, American Airlines 11, hit the North Tower at 8:46 am. “I didn’t see the point of impact, but with the amount of smoke I knew something serious was going on. That’s when I heard the screaming engine of the second commercial airline and I watched it enter the building,” he recalled.
By the time the South Tower collapsed at 9:59 am, Cahill was walking up Church Street. “I remember the feeling of the earth vibrating and I looked up and Tower Two was coming down. It just imploded. It didn’t tilt. It imploded straight down, and we started running. I made it two blocks and all I saw was a tidal wave of smoke and debris. And then we were completely engulfed and went from seeing three to four city blocks to not being able to see your hand in front of your face,” he said. “This was all probably 10 minutes after I finally left the NY Stock Exchange where we saw people jumping to their death. They had to make the choice of either burning to death or jumping.”
It’s a moment that would forever change Cahill and Reed’s lives and how they viewed the world.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about what I went through that day,” said Cahill. “9/11 hits me every single day. …It is brutal. It hurts. It is real. Has it gotten easier? Sure, it has. But do I still have a wrenching feeling in my heart? Yeah.
“It’s the worst possible thing you could ever imagine, watching a plane 800 feet above your head flying into a building. It looked like it was computerized. It didn’t even look real,” he continued. “It was the most disturbing thing. I’ll never be able to erase it from my mind.”
While the pain still lingers, the fear of that day has largely subsided. What remains? Love.
And this weekend, Reed and Cahill will exude that when they ruck close to 30 miles over the course of 36 hours across Cape Cod as part of the Ruck4HIT team Front Toward Victory. It will be their first-ever ruck, an event Reed stumbled upon in January after picking up a Heroes In Transition (HIT) pamphlet while working out at Anytime Fitness in Mashpee.
When he got home, he went on the HIT website and started reading about the race. “I started doing some digging and thought this might be for me,” Reed said. “I’ve been involved with other programs supporting veterans over the last decade or so, raising awareness and volunteering my time, but I never have really been involved with something that was as local as this could be here in Mashpee.”
His girlfriend, Jessica Crawford, quickly signed onto the race as a driver. Cahill did the same as a rucker, jumping at the opportunity to test himself mentally and physically.
While 9/11 was the worst day of his life, one of the best occurred in November 2004 when he ran the New York City Marathon. The year prior, he had marveled at his sister when she ran the same race. “I was watching her run on the sidewalk like the other half million people cheering on their friends and family. I’m sitting there having a cigarette and a cold beer and rooting on these phenomenally strong, courageous people running through the five boroughs of New York City, wondering why the hell would you do that,” Cahill recalled. “I looked at all these runners who were doing something we are not.”
That experience inspired him to do something he had never done in his life — run 26.2 miles straight. When he completed his journey the following year and crossed the finish line, he said, “I felt there was nobody stronger than me. It was the best day in the world. When you cross the finish line you feel like superman. You’re running on pure adrenaline and running for something, whether for yourself, a family member, or somebody who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
This weekend, he will be running for his friend Ed Cardinale, an Army combat pilot who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “He sent me all of his patches, including his Army Airborne and I’m going to sew them to my rucksack,” Cahill said. “I’m dedicating this to him and I’m also out here to raise awareness for veterans – the ones that come home and the ones that don’t. The veterans that do come home are not taken care and not getting the help they need.”
Reed said the mantra of Ruck4HIT – running for those who can’t – is what spoke to him. “When our veteran community comes back after sacrificing everything, our society doesn’t give them enough recognition and support,” he said. “This race is really for those who can’t. So many people cannot do this and will never be able to do this because of the sacrifices they made on our behalf to be able to do this.”
Giving back is an important part of who he is. When he worked for the Wellington Management Company in Boston, he was part of an internal group that identified programs to get veterans into the workforce. He has volunteered at the Boston VA and run the Falmouth Road Race several times, helping to raise funds for the Joe Andruzzi Foundation as well as the National Brain Tumor Society.
“This one hit me because you look at all those other organizations, this is in our backyard. This is Mashpee,” Reed said. “This is where you can actually see where the rubber hits the road in terms of charity and money and services Heroes In Transition is able to provide.”
Want to support this year’s Ruck4HIT? You can make a donation at www.ruck4hit.org. And make sure to celebrate our participants at the Ruck4HIT Finish Line Party this Saturday, April 30, 11 am to 6 pm, at Cape Cod Coffee in Mashpee Commons. This family-friendly event will include live music; games (cornhole and Jenga); face painting; raffles, including a 50/50 raffle; and more!