On the eve of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we’re sitting down with Denise Olsen, wife of Jeffery Olsen, a firefighter who lost his life as a first responder. She tells us the story of what she remembers about the day of the attacks, being under a microscope while coping, how she’s used fitness to heal and so much more.
Be sure to follow Denise Olsen on Instagram (@Strong_and_Soulful) to watch her “ruck” from Boston to New York City this week and to receive updates on her book, Strong and Soulful.
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A LOOK INSIDE THE EPISODE:
TM: Can you take me back to the day of 9/11? Can you just talk me through what you remember?
D: I give people a little bit of background on this because right before September 11th, I had had a miscarriage and there were some complications with it, so I was not feeling great that day. I had sent my son, Vincent, off to school. My sister or my brother-in-law would come pick him up, drive him to school and the two babies, my daughter was three and Noah was 18 months old, for some reason, slept in. This is quite unusual because all of my kids are usually up at the crack of dawn, to this day. I wasn’t feeling great, so normally I never go back to bed, but I was like, let me just lay down for a little bit and rest. My phone was ringing off the hook and this is before cell phones. You have an answering machine that you could hear click on and off and voicemail. I was thinking in my mind it was probably my sister calling or my sister-in-law, people that I would talk to regularly. So I was just like, I’ll call them back later. Then, my father calls and my father doesn’t normally make phone calls and I heard him on my voicemail. I was like, that’s weird. so I picked it up. He said, “Where’s Jeff?” And I said, “He’s at work.” At the time, my father worked at Jersey City Medical Center and his office overlooked the water straight to the Twin Towers. And he said, “Well, a plane just flew into one of the Twin Towers.” He knew where Jeff worked. Jeff works in the firehouse that is adjacent to the memorial, so right on Liberty and Greenwich. I say this all the time and I know if you’re not in the fire service or married to someone who’s in fire service, you might not understand, but I honestly wasn’t concerned. I thought there was a fire and I was excited for him because he lived for fire. So I was like, “Oh, well, good for him. He’s gonna have a great, well terrible for the people that are on a plane and all of that. But I don’t mean that disrespectfully. But as far as my concern for him at the moment, the thought never ever passed my mind that something was going to happen to him.” While I’m still on the phone with my father, the second plane hit and he was like (my father does not curse), “Holy shit, another plane just flew into the other tower.” And we knew right away that something was wrong. It felt like we were under attack, but by who? From where? That was when the wheels fell off the wagon. Like, you don’t know what’s happening and my main concern at that moment was not only for Jeff, but it sort of shifted more towards, alright, I’m home alone with these two kids and my other one is in school, and I have no idea what’s going on. How do I keep us safe? So I put the TV on, then we started hearing about the plane flying into the Pentagon, the plane crashing in Shanksville, and I think I was more frightened over the idea of that we’re being attacked than fearful of what was happening to Jeff. It wasn’t until the first tower fell that I went back to that, oh my god, is he okay? When the first tower fell, I immediately just started to pray because you know they’re in there and after the second tower was hit, you knew that there were a lot of them in there, this wasn’t just a few companies responding to a fire. When I say this, I get so much shit for this, honestly. I’ve been on a documentary and my girlfriend was watching it and called me up and was like, “This is so you.” I was thinking to myself, if he gets hurt, I remembered he had said to me, “If anything ever happens to me, they will send someone to pick you up, and they’ll bring you to me.” So I was like, oh my god, I better get in the shower and get ready. If he’s hurt, I want to be ready to go to him. While I was in the shower, the second tower fell. We lived in a tiny house, I had the bathroom door open because I had the little ones, and I had the TV blasting. You could just hear the newscaster screaming that the tower was falling and I love to tell this story because it speaks to the beginning of my journey into yoga and spirituality and knowing that there’s something bigger than us. While I was in the shower, I was wearing a locket that Jeff had given to me and as the tower fell, the locket, it felt like someone was holding on to it and it got ripped off my neck and fell into the bottom of the bathtub. I don’t want to say I knew that he had been killed or anything like that, I just had this feeling of falling. The crazy thing with your brain is that when you get so frightened, it has this mechanism that immediately starts to compartmentalize things and doesn’t allow you to think in a logical way. I call it almost like magical thinking. There wasn’t a thought in my mind at that point that he could have died. Going back to the praying, it started out, oh, please don’t let them be hurt, and then it shifted to, please just let him come home. I don’t care what shape he’s in, I don’t care if he is paralyzed, I don’t care. I just want him to come home.