Charleston runner honors fallen father
Horrocks often remembers life lessons taught by her dad
Christa Horrocks was just an average 9-year-old girl when her world changed forever and she lost her father. Her hero, playmate and confidant, Michael Horrocks was the co-pilot of United Airlines Flight 175 on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
Horrocks’ flight to Boston was hijacked and diverted to New York City where it hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center, the second plane to crash into the twin skyscrapers.
The news was devastating for the Horrocks family, and like for the thousands of other victims’ families, life was never quite the same again.
The father and daughter shared a special bond through athletics, something that helped Horrocks initially deal with her grief, and eventually earn a partial scholarship to the College of Charleston as a sprinter on the track team. Her father Michael was also a collegiate athlete, and quarterbacked West Chester to its first win against Delaware in 23 years in 1983. The victory was his first career start, and Horrocks went on to compile a 14-7 record as the Golden Rams’ starting quarterback.
“My dad and I always used to run together,” Horrocks said. “He really got me into sports. I played soccer starting at the age of five, and he would always take me to the practices. He instilled a competitive edge in me and my brother. He loved to go out in the backyard and kick a soccer ball around or teach us how to play softball or baseball. He really loved to be active.”
The elder Horrocks not only kindled a passion for athletics in his children, but the former U.S. Marine and commercial pilot imparted bits of wisdom that Christa still follows today.
“I emulated the way he carried himself, and I really wanted to be just like him,” Horrocks said. “I remember when there were days when I was struggling in school or having a rough day at soccer practice, and he would say, ‘Christa, the cream always rises to the top. Don’t get down on yourself.’ He would inspire me to go out there and have a better day.”
The year her father passed away, Horrocks was in fourth grade and began running competitively for the local CYO track team.
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“I think there’s something to running … a certain level of pain that you have to endure in order to be a successful competitor,” Horrocks said. “Even at a young age I loved to win. It made me happy and it made me feel like [my dad] was running with me every step of the way. There is a certain part of running that is so painful … it kind of simulates the pain I had to go through after losing him.”
She went on to run on her middle school team and for the Penncrest High School squad in suburban Philadelphia, where she was a member of the school-record 4x200 relay team. As a student-athlete for the Cougars, Horrocks now competes in the 200 and 400-meter races.
Last year, as Horrocks was adjusting to her first year of college life, she was also penning a speech to honor her father at West Chester’s Michael Horrocks Day.
A group of Horrocks’ former football teammates led by Tom Schafer and John Mininno raised thousands of dollars to ensure he was properly recognized for his contributions on the football field, and for the nation. On the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy, a ceremony was held prior to the Edinboro – West Chester football game, where a life-sized bronze statue of Horrocks was permanently placed at the bottom of the hill in the north end zone of Farrell Stadium overlooking the field.
Standing with her brother Mick, Christa Horrocks delivered a moving tribute before the statue was unveiled. Taking a memorable line from the 1993 film The Sandlot -- a family-favorite in the Horrocks’ household – she described how the quote in many ways became the story of her father’s life.
“Remember kid, there's heroes and there's legends. Heroes get remembered but legends never die, follow your heart kid, and you'll never go wrong.” – The Babe
“It’s such a great line,” Horrocks said. “When I think of my dad, I think of him more as a legend than as a hero. When I was young, he was always my hero, but now he’s been turned into a legend, not only for me, but for our country, which is a very cool idea.”
While the statue stands as a reminder of his heroism, Michael Horrocks’ legend lives on through the memories shared by his family, friends and teammates, and certainly through his daughter. And while the way Horrocks passed away on Sept. 11, 2001, is just a small part of his legend, for Christa, the loss of her father on that tragic day completely changed her life.
“It really shaped my life and who I am today,” Horrocks said. “I developed a much closer relationship with God after the events, and it made me value life. I value my friendships. I value who I have in my life, and I don’t take things for granted.”