We'll Never Forget

The tragic events unfolded just as my workday began. Two hijacked jets slammed into the World Trade Center towers. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon, while a fourth came down in western Pennsylvania.

Co-workers listened to the news on radios, while others sought out televisions to watch the shocking images. I went online for updates, but jammed Web servers made that impossible.

Throughout it all, I attempted to focus, to shut it out, to do my work. But I couldn't, and after awhile, I felt callous for even trying. Eventually, like many others, I shut off my computer and went home.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Americans contemplated the sheer horror that they had experienced. Some mourned. Some cried for vengeance. Some prayed.

I thought.

I thought of Jim DeLaunay. I've never met Jim, but I knew that he worked as the general manager of the Fitness Company club located on the top floor of World Trade Center 3. I knew that the fitness center was near the collapsed towers, and I could only hope that Jim was safe.

The next day, the Fitness Company informed Club Industry that Jim was OK, as was the rest of the facility's staff. During the catastrophe, Jim managed to evacuate the fitness center, but as he took one last sweep to make sure everyone had gotten out, falling debris came through the roof, trapping him inside. Fortunately, he was with an equipped firefighter, and after 30 minutes, they escaped.

I tell you Jim's story because I want to put a face on the countless acts of compassion and heroism borne in the face of unfathomable loss. Jim could have fled the facility, but he put the safety of others before his own. His bravery humbles me.

I can tell you other stories that make me proud to be part of this industry. I can tell you of clubs that opened their facilities to the wounded, to rescue workers, to the Red Cross. I can tell you of clubs that gave money, time and prayers. Perhaps some day I will. But not today.

To concentrate solely on the moving solidarity that followed the terrorist attacks overlooks the loss of life. I could eulogize the victims, but those who died deserve more than words. They deserve the respect that only actions bring. We must honor them in our memories and in our deeds. Now and forever.

The events of Sept. 11 reminded us how fragile — how unpredictable — life truly is. What a terrible lesson, but it's a lesson we must remember. We owe it to the victims.

Today, we stand united as a people. But what of tomorrow? Once we fold our flags, extinguish our candles, and put away our red, white and blue clothing, will Americans return to complacency? Will people once again take their lives for granted, squandering their health? I hope not.

Our leaders have asked that we go back to our normal lives. But normal American life has created a nation plagued with preventable health problems. Returning to normal life isn't enough. We must return to better lives. How else can we overcome this tragedy — and our enemies? How else can we honor those slain by cowards?

Now more than ever Americans require healthier bodies, minds and spirits. Now more than ever Americans need you. You can build more than a strong business. You can build a strong nation — with your services, with your community involvement. You can lead by example. You can share your strength. You can make a difference.

We must never forget. Wasting our lives insults those who lost theirs. We must be — and remain — strong.

Best regards,

Jerry Janda