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9/11 first responder now trains athletes: 'This is serving my purpose'

Posted at 11:39 PM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 19:46:38-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- September 11, 2001, is a day Coach David Anderson will never forget.

He hopes that what he was doing in the terrible moments after the terrorist attack and what he does today inspires those around him.

Anderson is the founder of Foundation Academy Sports in Chesterfield, Virginia. He works with student-athletes to help them improve their game.

“It starts with them wanting to be consistent," Anderson said. "Basketball is my passion. I love development and teaching."

Anderson is serious about helping. He and the trainers at Foundation Academy have helped develop some of the best talents in Central Virginia.

“Over the last 15 to 20 years, we've had, I think 11 or 15 of the top All-Metro players come through Foundation Basketball,” he said, showing pictures of former players.

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Some of the players earned college scholarships with his assistance and at least one of them made it to the pros.

“It’s not about me, it’s what I can do for other people," he said.

Anderson used to help people in devastating situations as a former first responder. On 9/11, he worked for the New York City Fire Department and EMS.

"The devastation in New York City was completely unbelievable at that time," Anderson said.

The memories from that day are still fresh in his mind.

“The radio went crazy,” he said.

Anderson was on duty when the first plane went into the World Trade Center. He had just worked a double shift and was on his way home for the day.

“I remember vividly. He came across the air and said, 'essential, essential this is so and so and so and so, this is a hard hat operation, this is a hard hat operation.'" Anderson said while tearing up. "I'm sorry, I'm about to get emotional. He said, 'Plane into the World Trade Center.'"

On day one, Anderson was at Ground Zero searching for people in the rubble.

"It was so surreal," he said.

At first, he wasn’t sure he'd survive.

“My locker had a picture of me with my family. I just saw the picture. I wrote, you know, I love you guys, if I don't return, I love you, because I didn't expect to come back home,” Anderson said.

He stayed mentally tough by thinking of his family with gratitude.

“People lost their family members. They had children, they had souls, they had private lives, and you know, so you feel for them,“ he said.

Eventually, he followed his family to Central Virginia. They moved to the Richmond area for a job opportunity and Anderson found new work at the Chesterfield Fire Department.

"I was at station one down in Chester-Harrogate Road. A lot of good friends over there. And then I was in station 12 out in Ettrick for a few years,” he said.

Decades later, he still deals with the sadness of September 11.

“You don't forget, you just put in a certain part of your brain. I try not to think about it a lot, because it just breaks, breaks me every time," he said.

Some people from his old department in New York City have passed on.

“We’ve lost a lot of people to cancer," said Anderson.

He believes the disease may have been a result of the terrible day. Anderson beat cancer himself after being diagnosed last year.

“I had two surgeries, and it’s all been removed,” he said.

After about a decade of helping with emergencies in Central Virginia, Anderson hung up his uniform for good. He said he missed the fire department but was now passionate about helping athletes develop at his gym.

“This is serving my purpose. This is what God wanted me to do," Anderson said.

He hopes his life experiences inspire his players.

“They can help other people. It's each one teach one,” he said.

Foundation Academy offers an umbrella of services, including personal training, team sports, and athlete recovery. You can learn more about the program by visiting this website.

This story was first reported by Candace Burns on WTVR.com.