Bombing victim returns to Boston Marathon start line

Adrianne Haslet rolls on a foam pad after her practice run in Allston, Massachusetts on April 8, 2022. (Kathryn Riley for The Washington Post)

On Monday morning, Adrianne Haslet will make her way to the start line of the Para division of the Boston Marathon, ready to begin another 26.2-mile journey that will end at the spot where, nine years ago, she lost his left foot and almost his life.

April, bearing as it does the anniversary of the marathon bombing, is a particularly cruel month for Haslet, who knows all too well the emotional baggage that a 26.2-mile race brings. A ballroom dancer at the time of the bombing, Haslet most often uses the word “gratitude” to describe her state of being after first overcoming the loss of her leg and then severe arm injuries sustained in 2019, when she was hit by a car while crossing a street.

“I feel incredibly grateful to have been able to still be alive in the moment and to be able to see the people I love again and to now be able to walk, run and dance and continue to participate in daily life and meet people unbelievable,” she said. in a telephone interview. “I’m just super, super grateful. I’ve never lost my life for almost losing my life. It’s in the center of my brain every day, almost every minute, and not in a scary and scary way. morbid, but I’m just overflowing with gratitude.”

Haslet’s gratitude doesn’t hide the hardships she faced en route to the marathon start line in Hopkinton, Mass.

“One of the most common things is waking up one day and having this little checkmark saying, ‘Hey, everything is better now. Congratulations. Everything is fine, isn’t it?'” she says. “And we want it because it would be an easy fix and the easy button, but that’s not how life works, and I’m definitely making room for this trauma that’s still a part of me.

“I have episodes of real sadness about missing my leg – that shock that happens every April. It happens outside of April, but it always happens in April. And it’s really hard. To steal a metaphor of racing, we have bad races and they’re terrible and we think, ‘I could never do the marathon. It’s awful and I could never. I’m so embarrassed. It’s such a terrible race.” And then the next day we crash it like a double race and feel amazing. . . .

“My only goal since finally realizing and accepting that this little tick mark will never come is to have more good days than bad and to really, really savor the gratitude I have from training for the marathon. from Boston . . . ?”

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Haslet was a more Ginger Rodgers-aware young woman than Joan Benoit Samuelson or Shalane Flanagan on that day in 2013 when she walked to Boylston Street in Boston’s Back Bay to see the spectacle of the marathon finish. She had grown up in the Seattle area and wondered “why the hell” would anyone run that far.

Her footsteps brought her close to the finish line when the first explosion occurred. When the second hit, “I was on the ground and saw that my foot was gone immediately. During the [bombers’] trial, I saw footage of me walking along that same road and the monster, whose name I never say, and I was almost shoulder to shoulder. He dropped the backpack and looked at me and the others and walked away.”

This was the start of his unlikely journey into running. His brothers had run the race in 2014 and a friendship with Flanagan, the four-time Olympian who won the New York City Marathon in 2017, began that year. In 2016, Haslet, who had taken up the challenge herself, was ready to attempt the race, which she finished last, clocking 10 hours, 30.23 seconds.

“For someone who was competitive and always likes to be first,” she said, “it was the best, most humbling, most impressive thing to come in last. I would never change that. time for anything because I’ve learned so much.” Barack Obama tweeted, “Thank you, Adrianne, for being Boston Strong. Terror and bombs can’t beat us. We keep going. We finish the race!” Tom Brady called her “an inspiration” in a Facebook post.

Adrianne Haslet runs in preparation for the Boston Marathon in Allston, Mass. on April 8, 2022.

Adrianne Haslet runs in preparation for the Boston Marathon in Allston, Mass., April 8, 2022. (Kathryn Riley for The Washington Post)

She tried again in 2018, but had to stop due to a cold monsoon that one organizer likened to a wintry car wash. Then, in January 2019, she again suffered trauma when she was hit by a car while near Commonwealth and Hereford streets in Boston, another emotional landmark for her on the marathon course. .

“I had the right of way and I had the crosswalk sign and someone with no lights was going about 40 miles an hour and they hit me in the left leg. Because their bumper hit the carbon fiber of my prosthetic leg, I flew nearly four car lengths.”

She lands on her left side, crushing his arm. “I’m actually more disabled in my left arm from being hit by this car than I’ve ever been from a terrorist,” she said. “It was debilitating for me. I couldn’t carry my leg because I only had one arm to put it on. I still can’t twist my arm and my elbow on my shoulder and a bunch of ways different.”

She lost the chance to run the race that year and in 2020 when it was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. When the 2021 race was moved to the fall because of the pandemic, she was set – only to roll her ankle. Haslet then focused on 2022, when racing returned to its traditional spot on the April schedule.

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Partly due to Haslet’s advocacy, Boston for the second time will feature a para division and 34 athletes are registered. Previously, para-athletes raced in a special wave. Haslet hopes to make the Paralympic Games one day, if the marathon is added to his events, and Boston is a hopeful stopover. Flanagan, a friend and runner who coaches her, proved last fall that despite being “retired” from professional racing, she could run all six World Marathon Majors in six weeks. Haslet and Flanagan first met after the 2014 Boston Marathon and they have bonded over the years. Flanagan, who grew up in Marblehead, Mass., and coaches the Bowerman Track Club in Oregon, “took the reins” as Haslet’s trainer and will be his backup runner in Boston.

“There’s a good reason to run and it’s a great reason,” said Flanagan, who worked with Haslet in Oregon and Massachusetts. “Anyone who’s just passionate about something is – it’s worth working with them, and I could tell their enthusiasm. It was just such a beautiful full-loop moment, someone who, after watching the marathon, has lost his leg and is now helping to create a para division. I thought that was the most incredible story, and for me it was a big goal to be part of it because I think it can inspire so much of people.

Flanagan helped refine Haslet’s running form. “She was carrying her left arm like it was still injured,” Flanagan said. “To increase a range of motion, it’s limited, but it’s amazing how the mind and the body work. As soon as I just said, ‘Adrianne, you constantly have to move your arm differently’, she was able to do it. There have been a lot of improvements, and I think she will be the best version of Adrianne in Boston.”

Flanagan also changed Haslet’s approach to racing gear. The sleeve that covers her left thigh and her prosthetic leg kept slipping off when she started to sweat, forcing her to stop to adjust it. Flanagan, aided by her relationship with Nike, came up with solutions – sticky spray and tape as well as an alligator.

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Through therapy, Haslet learned to assess the sources of her feelings, helping her “get through them without riding the tide of all the emotions that can accompany this kind of tragedy. I recognize that the anniversary of the bombing will always be right when I have to be the strongest for it.”

For Haslet and Flanagan, there is a “full loop” aspect to this marathon, brought home when Haslet took Flanagan to where she lost her leg and Flanagan recalled how close he was to the where she had watched the race as a young girl. .

“Here I was the fan inspired by the marathon as a little girl watching my dad and then to think, you know, here she was a fan too and lost her leg, and now she’s coming back. She never ran, and now she’s running the marathon,” Flanagan said.

The Haslet team also includes her boyfriend, Harry Mattison, and her Labradoodle service, Fred. Others who have helped her include families who lost loved ones on 9/11 and traveled to Boston to share their experiences shortly after the attacks. They helped Haslet learn that resilience is a complex issue.

“For those of us who have lived [trauma]it’s tuesday night when you smell something or it’s the time i burned my hair in a curling iron that i remember what it was like to lay on that sidewalk and having your hair on fire,” Haslet said. “Or it’s Wednesday afternoon when you need to pee and get up and you can’t put your leg in at the time you want .”

Last month, she posted on Instagram a ‘before’ photo of herself wearing a miniskirt and an ‘after’ photo of herself strong and running with her bladed prosthesis, writing that April “is the month my body remembers”.

“I sometimes see pictures of me with two feet and in all my dresses and all that ballroom gear and it’s hard,” she said. “Sometimes I see a girl in a miniskirt and I’m like, ‘Damn, I can’t’ – you know, sure, I can wear it, but you know, it’s very different and as a person who used my feet as my work, it’s hard.

“But I’m grateful to have traded two hours of preparation [to go out] do not shower and sweat in public [as a runner]. It’s a much healthier place. So I’m grateful for that, and I’m grateful for running for showing me what my body can still do. I know it’s a beautiful thing.”

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