Raleigh man and 9/11 'hero' reflects on how attacks shifted his priorities and shaped his life

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The 9/11 terror attacks thrust Cary native John Cerqueira into the national spotlight after he helped carry a woman in a wheelchair down 68 flights of stairs in the north tower of the World Trade Center.

On the 20th anniversary of the attacks, Cerqueira reflected on the event that changed the course of his life and helped him reevaluate his priorities.

"I cared, much less about financial rewards or professional success and status than I did relationships and that became really my focus, relationships," Cerqueira told ABC11's Steve Daniels in an interview.

Cerqueira was 22 years old and a recent NC State University graduate living in New York City in 2001.

The nation hailed him a hero for helping carry Tina Hansen to safety on 9/11.

He appeared in People magazine and on the Oprah show.

"Going through all of those different interviews was a really good opportunity to just flesh out what I thought and what I felt," Cerqueira said. "It started helping me process, where I fit in the whole experience as less of a victim or even psychologically, somebody who was less prone to survivor's guilt."

The terror attacks prompted introspection and produced lessons that Cerqueira uses now to guide his life.

"The opportunity afforded to us to focus on somebody else's well-being, was freeing, and it actually was calming and made us more powerful, and it really started this realization for me that we are most fulfilled when we serve other people," he said.

Cerqueira lives in Raleigh with his wife, Melissa, and their 9-year-old daughter, Hannah Grace.

He explained how his personal journey after 9/11 now helps guide other people in his work at a sales training and management coaching firm.

"When you stop focusing on what you get, your problems, your wins, it's actually an opportunity to be a little more free and more fulfilled," he said. "It's a guiding message that I use on a daily basis to reorient me when I'm feeling a little off-kilter."

FULL SPECIAL: Remembering 9/11 Twenty Years Later
EMBED More News Videos

Here are the stories of North Carolinians who were in the middle of the attacks and many who were here but making an impact.

Copyright © 2022 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.