Life in the spotlight | October 2, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - October 2, 2009

Life in the spotlight

Lorrie Sullenberger offers humor, insights into sudden fame

by Geoff Gillette

Since a miraculous landing and rescue earlier this year, the name Sullenberger has become a familiar one both here and abroad.

Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger was the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549 heading from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, N.C. The flight struck a flock of geese and Sullenberger was forced to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River. All 155 passengers and crew survived the experience.

Since that day, life has been different for Sullenberger and his family. In a speech to more than 100 people at the Alamo Women's Club on Sept. 16, Lorrie Sullenberger, a fitness expert and personal trainer, detailed just how different it's become.

In a luncheon address entitled, "Are you ready?" she talked about the accident, her husband's actions and the aftermath. With a wry smile she described how on the afternoon of Jan. 15 she was in a pitch meeting with television executives regarding a fitness show when her husband began trying to call her.

"We were on the phone when Sully first began to call," she recalled. "He first called on my cell, which I ignored."

But she said that when he continued to call on both of the landlines to the home and the cell phone she told the executives that she should probably take the call.

"I was trying to be so professional, and not just be a wife who takes her husband's call," she explained.

Moments later he had laid out what had happened, that he was OK, and that he would not be home that night. After getting off the phone, she turned on the TV and began watching the coverage of the safe landing of Flight 1549.

"It was a completely unreal feeling to know that that was his voice on the phone and the images I was seeing on the TV," she said. "My body started to shake violently and I sat down."

At a friend's urging she went and picked up her daughters, and they returned to the family's Danville home to await further word on the man the media would dub, "The Hero of the Hudson."

"We turned on the TV and sat in silence as our world, as we knew it, started to shift."

She described the barrage of calls, e-mails and faxes from news organizations all over the world as "like having a firehose turned straight on you."

She then spoke of the media siege of the family's home and how she was forced to call in a public relations firm to handle the onslaught of reporters and photographers. She drew laughter and applause from the crowd when she talked about what life is like being under a microscope 24 hours a day.

"Like I tell people, you just can't have that many good hair days in a row," she joked.

While the media frenzy was problematic in many ways, it also made for some fun and interesting moments. Sullenberger told a story of how she was talking to the producers of the Jay Leno show when her daughter walked in talking on her cell phone.

"I touched her with my finger and told her that I was on the phone with the Jay Leno people and she did this (pointing her finger at the cell phone), 'Matt Lauer.' I said, 'OK, you win.'"

This led to interviews on 60 Minutes, seats at the Superbowl, the Oscars and the Presidential Inaugural Ball.

"My initial impressions were that President Obama has the softest hands of any person I've ever met," she recounted.

Sully has achieved "Santa Claus status," she also informed the crowd. Mail addressed just to "Sully" finds its way to their home.

But her address touched on areas that had little to do with fame as well. She talked about the first time she saw Sully after the accident. She described a man who viewed himself differently from the hero being presented to the world.

"That was the weird part of all that," she said. "The world was celebrating, but he felt like first of all he wasn't supposed to end up in the Hudson. He struggled with, 'Oh my god, I'm responsible for that.'"

Overall, though, she said the family has adjusted and adapted to its change in status. From the well wishers seeking autographs to the mountains of mail they still receive months later.

"There is power in a worldwide feel-good moment," she said. "And Sully, and to some degree our family, was the face of that feel-good moment."