WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. – Adam Staples was 22 years old when his life, and America, changed forever.

On September 11, 2001, the Arkansas man was in the south tower of the World Trade Center when the second plane hit.

A KARK 4 News crew was there the next day when he shared what he experienced.

“I had my hand on the wall looking out the window and there was an explosion. The building rumbled and come to find out that was the second plane hitting Tower 2, the one that we were in,” Staples said two decades ago. “I made a beeline for the stairs. I was ready to get out of there.”

The Piggot native and Arkansas State alum were on the 61st floor of the south tower on September 11, 2001, for day two of a three-week training program with Morgan Stanley.

Staples walked down 61 flights of stairs to get to safety, unaware of what was unfolding outside.

Eight minutes later, the building he had just walked out of collapsed.

“Months from now, a year from now, it will probably sink in what we were involved in, but right now there is no way we fully understand it,” Staples said in 2001.

Now, two decades years later, it’s still sinking in.

Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the attack, KARK 4 News caught up with Staples to see what his life is like today.

He now lives in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, north of Jonesboro and is a loving husband to his wife Nicole and a doting dad to his kids, Abigail and Wesley.

While he feels blessed by the joys of his family, the tragedy of that day reminds him just how precious they really are.

“There is a constant awareness that this could all be over right now, any day” Staples said.

During the interview, he reflected on that fateful day 20 years ago and how close he was to being one of the 2,753 souls lost at ground zero.

“Particularly, the time I rode the elevator up to the 61st floor the last time. If I had been in that elevator when the second plane hit the south tower it would all be over,” Staples said.

He recounted the agonizing moments until he could finally get word back home to his family in Arkansas that he was alive.

“When I think about that day, I think the thing I think about is the people that were left hanging, waiting for an answer,” he shared.

Staples said for him, each September 11 anniversary is different. On some anniversaries, like this year’s, he has speaking engagements where he shares his story. On others, he “escapes” somewhere to be alone with his family and count his blessings.

All these years later, there are still moments that Staples said bring him right back to the fear two decades old.

“It shows up and gives some type of miniature panic attack in weird times,” he explained. “I’ll be sitting around with my wife and kids and enjoying something, you know when you’re caught up in a moment, ‘This is a particular moment I want to remember the rest of my life,’ and then, all of a sudden, it will be, ‘We almost didn’t get here.’”

Even with those moments, Staples says he has a sense of gratefulness that will never be lost.

“Not that I even get it right half the time, but it at least makes me aware that I should not sweat the small things.”