Unexpected legacy left by hero of Flight 93

Mark Bingham lived life to the fullest. He ran with the bulls in Pamplona. He tackled the Stanford Tree mascot at a football game. He even helped foil an armed robbery.

Sadly, Bingham died on Sept. 11, 2001. But he saved countless lives -- just how many will never be known.

The openly gay rugby player was one of the heroic passengers who led a revolt against the terrorists on board United Flight 93. The hijackers planned to slam the plane into the White House or the U.S. Capitol, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. Instead, the plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pa., killing the terrorists and passengers – but nobody else.

The most visible torchbearer of Bingham’s legacy is Alice Hoagland, his mother. After losing Bingham -- her only child -- Hoagland became a tireless advocate for things that were important to her son. Now 61, the retired United flight attendant is a proponent of aviation safety, a spokesperson for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community, and an avid supporter of rugby.

Flight 93 passengers learned from cell phone conversations that the World Trade Center and Pentagon had already been attacked. Bingham – along with Todd Beamer, Tom Burnett, and Jeremy Glick – formulated a game plan to overtake the hijackers, according to accounts from the phone calls. All four men were athletes.

Bingham stood 6-foot-4, weighed roughly 225 lbs., and played rugby. Beamer was 6-foot-2 and was a former basketball player. Burnett, 6-foot-3, played quarterback in high school and college. And Glick, also 6-foot-3, was a national collegiate judo champ. Hoagland is convinced their ability to think quickly, coupled with their physical strength, made a difference in stopping the plane from hitting one of its targets.

[ Photos: Images of the Flight 93 memorial site ]

“Competitive sports and athletic ability really made a difference for America on that day,” she says. That’s one of the reasons Hoagland has become the spiritual force behind the Bingham Cup. There are other living legacies bearing her son’s name, such as the Mark Bingham Memorial Award given by his alma mater, Los Gatos High School, and the Cal Alumni Association’s Mark Bingham Award for Excellence in Achievement by a Young Alum, which goes to Berkeley graduates 1-15 years out of school. But it’s the rugby tournament – the Bingham Cup – that may have had the largest impact.

It has become the “World Cup of gay rugby,” as Hoagland describes. She feels the sport helped shape her son into the person – and hero - he became. She wants others to enjoy the sport as much as Bingham did. The Cup started in 2002 with less than 10 teams. Now, 40 to 50 teams participate in the biennial event, which alternates between the United States and the United Kingdom. Squads from as far away as Australia participate in the tourney.

Hoagland is closest to members of the San Francisco Fog, a club that Bingham helped found in 2000. A few years after the 9/11 attacks, they gave Hoagland a team jacket bearing the nickname “Mom” embroidered across the front. She wears it with pride to this day.
“I may have lost a son but I’ve gained a very huge family and it makes me feel good every time I see them,” she says.

For information about Mark, visit www.withyoufilm.com.

Video produced by Blair Johnson.  Shot and edited by Brad Williams.  Post-production Audio by James Kelly.  Graphics by Howard Kim for Yahoo! Studios.

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