9/11 survivor to compete in Sunday Ironman
Steve Gatto has a commemorative 9/11 photo hanging in his Lake Forest office. The World Trade Center attack survivor will compete in the Wisconsin Ironman Sunday to raise funds for the Wounded Warriors Project. | Morgan Glier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 5, 2011 1:06PM
Ten years after he ran from the collapsing World Trade Center tower he just escaped, Steven Gatto will run again, this time in the Wisconsin Ironman competition to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001.
Sunday’s Ironman in Madison — a combination 2.5-mile swim, 112-mile bike race followed by a 26-mile run — will challenge Gatto physically and mentally, a fitting tribute, he believes, to the 9/11 events that tested the country.
“I think a lot of challenges we face in life allow us to grow and make us better people,” said Gatto, now 33, a husband to Lisa and father to 18-month-old Jude.
That is a lesson Gatto learned during 9/11 and one he carries with him today.
“One of the things I remember most from that day is how great it was to see people join together and help one another. The selfless acts of the firemen, the police, the medical staff that were doing whatever they could do to help each other,” Gatto said from his second-floor office in the Bank of America building in downtown Lake Forest where he works for Merrill Lynch.
“I saw how the city became a completely different place from 8 a.m. that morning to what it was at 8 p.m. that night. People truly cared about one another that night. As horrible as it was with what was going on, it had a sense of peace to it knowing that people truly did care. When their heart was in the right place, there was a sense that good things would happen,” he said.
Gatto and his co-workers from Morgan Stanley in Libertyville marveled at the patriotism they observed on their drive home to Illinois on Friday of that fateful week. The group was in its second day of training on the 61st floor of the South Tower when the terrorist acts began.
“We were on break from a meeting in a corner office. I was looking out of the window and I could see full-size sheets of paper flying through the air,” Gatto recalled.
That was the first inkling something was wrong. The second was when a shadow passed over the building.
“It seemed like smoke, but we didn’t know at the time if it was smoke,” he said.
It was, in fact, smoke from the burning North Tower.
The group of trainees decided to head downstairs. On the 44th floor sky lobby when their tower was struck, Gatto said he tensed up preparing for the building to collapse. Reacting quickly after hearing glass shattering and a whoosh of air through the elevator shafts, Gatto and his group made it quickly to the staircase and started to descend a second time.
At about the 12th floor, Gatto encountered first responders making their way up the tower.
“I’m sure the firemen I passed didn’t live,” he said.
Being so close to individuals who put so much on the line for others has inspired Gatto to compete in this weekend’s Ironman to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. He hopes to raise $5,000 for soldiers wounded in combat in “the battle that started 10 years ago on 9/11 and is still being fought now,” he said.
On race day, Gatto will carry with him thoughts of 9/11 — the day he said he was “exposed to the true meaning of honor, courage and sacrifice.”
He’ll also carry on his bike a small American flag as a visual symbol of his celebration of that day.
“It’s my hope to see that we could have our country band together again with that same pride and the same common goal. That it wouldn’t take a catastrophe to bring us together,” he said.
Putting others above himself is something Gatto tries to do every day “to make my little corner of the world a better place to be.”
To make a contribution, go to http://WWPProudSupporter.kintera.org/ironman911.