Amazing Things

She Lost Her Leg In The Boston Bombings. Now, She’s Running The Marathon.

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The ground began to shake. People began to run. And a smothering, thick smoke poured over Boylston Street.

Thirty-two-year-old professional ballroom dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis quickly covered her eyes and turned away from the blast. Then, a second explosion knocked her to the ground.

She landed in a fetal position, her eyes still open. When the smoke finally began to thin, she realized that she was bleeding heavily. And that much of her left ankle and foot was missing.

Haslet-Davis was one of the many bystanders at the Boston Marathon bombings — the April 15, 2013, terrorist attack that killed three people and wounded at least 264 more. And while the precise timing of the events is hazy, she says she can still recall nearly every detail of the immediate aftermath.

“I remember thinking, ‘terrorist attack,’ right away — I knew just by the sheer force of the ground shaking,” she recently told The Huffington Post. “I sort of dragged my body with my forearms — I couldn’t get on my knees — but I dragged my body and was clawing at the ground to get over to the door of [a nearby building]. And someone opened the door and grabbed me by my shoulders and dragged me in.”

DAN LAMPARIELLO / REUTERS

Taken to the nearby Boston Medical Center, the dancer had to have her left leg amputated below the knee.

Immediately, she knew she was facing a long road ahead. Not only would she suffer from post-traumatic stress, but she would quite literally have to re-learn to walk, this time with the aid of a prosthetic lower leg. But just a week after she came out of surgery, when one could’ve hardly expected a positive thought from her recovery room, she made a promise to herself: that, no matter what, she would dance again.

Now, 36 months later, not only has Haslet-Davis foxtrotted once more, but this Monday she will be returning to Boylston Street — this time as a runner in the 2016 Boston Marathon.

She pledged to participate in October 2015, just six months ago. And while training for Marathon Monday would surely be her most taxing physical challenge to date, it also, more significantly, marked the biggest mental hurdle Haslet-Davis had attempted to jump since tragedy struck, as she prepared herself to face the fears that were born at Mile 26 on that spring day in 2013.


Haslet-Davis spent the spell following the bombing at Boston’s Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. It took exactly 78 days for her to take her first “unassisted” step following the amputation — bearing her own weight, wearing a prosthetic, “without holding someone’s hand or a walker or holding onto a crutch.”

During her hospitalization, she met MIT Media Lab director Hugh Herr, a double amputee himself who specializes in bionics. After speaking with Haslet-Davis, Herrpromised to build her her own bionic limb, developing it specifically to mesh with the “fundamentals” of, flexibility needed for and movements inherent to dance.

Just 200 days later, Haslet-Davis, donning a white dress, white shoes, an updo and a prosthetic left lower leg, stepped onto a stage and began to dance the rumba.

YOUTUBE

It was the tearful, triumphant climax to Herr’s March 2014 TED talk, in which he laid out his goal of “eliminating human disability through technology.” It combined scientific advancement with raw human emotion, as Haslet-Davis couldn’t hold back the tears before, throughout and after her first on-stage performance since the attack.

“Oh, my gosh, [I was feeling] every emotion possible,” Haslet-Davis recalled.

The training to get to that point was immeasurably draining. Mentally more so than physically, Haslet-Davis emphasized — “because I knew that once I started I would feel my limitations and that could be debilitating.”

“Trying to walk on and land on something that you can’t feel is on the floor is terrifying,” she continued. “[Trying to calculate] where your weight should be in order for it to be directly underneath you is very, very difficult.”

After the success of simply dancing again on the TED stage, Haslet-Davis entered her first post-bombing dance competition. She showed up for the simple thrill of performing the craft she loved — with “no intention of winning.”

She was handed the competition’s blue ribbon hours later.

ADRIANNE HASLET-DAVIS

She attributes the win to a “100 percent” change in her perspective on dance and how she approached the sport.

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About Barry G. Morris

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