In the hours and days following the horrific attacks of September 11th I found myself overrun with emails and phone calls. As somebody who's proud to call himself a New Yorker, it was comforting to have folks show strong concern for my wellbeing.
Around that same time, I began to receive inquiries as to the safety of others who live and work in NYC. Many of the people in question were members of the rowing community, and one name in particular was brought to my attention on several occasions. That name was Chris Fenyo.
Chris has been a valued friend since we met in 1987. Naive undergrads at Boston University, we coincidentally decided to investigate the 'rowing thing.' We survived the freshmen cuts, became teammates, and fell in love with the sport. After college, we continued our involvement with rowing. Chris went on to coach in California and later in Princeton, New Jersey.
While living in Princeton, he gave his free time to working with the volunteer fire department. And anybody who knows Chris could tell you his volunteer work nurtured a new love.
Fast forward a few years, Chris and I crossed paths once again. We lived together for a brief stint here in New York, and he began the application process for the FDNY. He scored well on the entrance exam and learned that patience would deliver him through two years of waiting for acceptance into his dream job.
Chris is now a Firefighter for the FDNY, having finished the academy just prior to the attacks. That September morning I was almost certain Chris was not on duty. However, I also knew he lived close to the World Trade Center and wasn't the type sit by simply watching the events unfold. The anxieties motivating those inquiries about Chris were the same as my own. I attempted several calls to Chris' girlfriend, Courtney, and it took a little networking to finally learn he was indeed safe and working tirelessly on the recovery effort.
As the story goes, soon after the first plane hit, Chris grabbed what little gear he had and ran from his apartment. He pushed against the steady stream of people making their way from the mayhem. At one point, Chris spotted a rather large man riding heavy on a Harley. He pointed at the guy and stated, "you're taking me down." Without hesitation, the biker spun a U-turn and Chris jumped on the back.
Once on the scene, Chris received orders from the emergency command center to rally with a group of Firefighters in a different branch of the complex. Thankfully, those orders probably saved his life. For a short period of time, he and several others were trapped within an underground passage, but "managed to find a way out."
Chris spent a great deal of the next several weeks down at the newly dubbed 'ground zero.' His job description eventually shifted from rescuer to one who located remains amidst the rubble. Working long shifts, his only rest came in the form of short visits to a nearby church, Saint Peter's.
There are three churches nestled around the World Trade Center: Trinity, St. Paul's, and St. Peter's. They offered shelter and assistance to the workers of ground zero. St. Peter's is the oldest Catholic church in the state, and the very same where Father Judge, the FDNY Chaplain, was brought to be administered last rights. Chris visited St. Peter's often to collect his thoughts, grab a quick meal, and regain the strength to continue his duties. You could say he developed a bond with the inconspicuous little church at the center of worldwide attention.
Today, over eight months since the attacks, Chris is back to working regular shifts with his East Harlem Firehouse. However, last weekend (May 18th), Chris made another visit to St. Peter's. I was fortunate to be present this time and delighted to join him under much better circumstances. Christopher Marc Fenyo and Courtney Marie Ryan chose St. Peter's as the location for the exchange of their vows. That's right, our boy got married.
The service felt like a breath of fresh air for a place that carried the burden of so much despair. Construction is continuous, 24 hours a day, around St. Peter's, but you wouldn't have noticed last weekend. A lone FDNY bagpiper helped drown the noise as the wedding party exited the church to welcoming smiles of the roughly 80 guests.
The reception took place in a West Village townhouse. Family, friends, firefighters, and even a couple rowers were on hand to help the newly married couple celebrate their nuptials.
Row2k did an amazing job last September. Coordinating a network link for the rowing community, it helped to ease the concerns of others around the world. And it is my pleasure to submit this follow up about one of those names who had many people concerned. Yes, Fenyo is well, working hard at his dream job, and thankful he has the opportunity to fulfill those duties.
If you want to get a hold of Chris and Courtney, you might want to wait until they're back from the well deserved honeymoon in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Some background: In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, in response to requests from our readership, row2k set up a survivor's list to broadcast news of the innumerable members of the rowing community working in downtown NYC. We built the list from emails and wire updates (wire updates fed to us by Tom Heebink), and for some time Chris was on the list of the missing that was issued by the AP and Bloomberg (Chris worked at Bloomberg while living in Princeton, so folks there were especially concerned). As these lists were changing almost continuously, especially with respect to firefighters who were working around the clock, before posting we got in touch with JB, who was also working during those days as a volunteer with the NYPD, to see if he could track Chris down. JB hustled to find Chris, and 18 hours later we were all but certain Chris was ok. row2k leaned hard on JB to provide us with news of Chris and others that week; tremendous thanks and kudos to JB.