Heather O'Reilly, the New Jersey native who helped lead the United States to the Women's World Cup final this month, stared out of a utility elevator as it sped 800 feet up the steel frame of One World Trade Center on Friday.
"I'm freaking out a little," said the 26-year-old midfielder, who scored the first goal in a 3-0 shutout against Colombia. "I wasn't afraid of heights when I was younger."
O'Reilly, who grew up in East Brunswick, toured the bustling construction at Ground Zero and was presented with an American flag that was briefly flown at the center of the 16-acre World Trade Center site. She was joined by Karen Bardsley, 26; Eniola Aluko, 24; and Kendall Fletcher, 26 -- teammates from Sky Blue FC, the Piscataway-based team she plays for when she isn't competing internationally.
"It's amazing to see what is happening here," she said after a white-gloved honor guard of Port Authority officers handed her the folded flag. "It was very emotional -- it shows the resilience of our nation. I feel like it translates to the resilience the world saw from America at the World Cup in Germany."
Though the United States lost to Japan on July 17, the run marked the first time in 12 years that the American women's team reached the World Cup final.
O'Reilly's Sky Blue FC teammates come from around the country and around the world. Aluko, originally from Nigeria, came to New Jersey from London and now lives in Warren. Fletcher, who is from North Carolina, commutes to practices and games from Little Falls. Bardsley, a Californian, lives in New Brunswick.
The group's tour brought it close to the top of the steel-and-concrete shell of One World Trade Center, which has reached 76 floors. The construction is the centerpiece of efforts to rebuild the area destroyed by the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
The players were led through a winding maze of steel ramps and wooden platforms, where 3,400 workers are adding one floor per week to a building that will reach 105 stories and 1,776 feet. After reaching the 69th floor, a few construction workers -- apparently soccer fans -- cheered the women, and O'Reilly was invited to sign her name and number -- 9 -- on a steel beam at the edge of the dizzying drop.
"People around the country follow you" on social media, said Bill Baroni, a deputy executive director of the Port Authority, as the players snapped photos, "and people will see in photos that we are meeting our objectives."
As O'Reilly strode briskly across the construction site after the tour, she said she was setting her sights beyond July's near-victory.
"The Olympics are just around the corner," she said.