Marathon memories

One year after the Boston Marathon bombings, the event’s legacy is that of great resiliency amidst heartache.

On April 15, 2013, almost three hours after the winners had finished the race, two pressure-cooker bombs left in backpacks detonated on the sidewalk near the finish line. Explosions sent shrapnel ripping through hundreds of spectators gathered by the marathon’s end. Three onlookers were killed, while more than 200 others were injured. In the sudden violence, many victims lost limbs.

The immediate response depicted selfless heroism. Seconds after the explosions, spectators and emergency personnel ran toward the blast zones to help those hurt, rather than flee from any further attacks. These first responders saved lives. Perhaps the most iconic photo from April 15 was snapped during this scene: Carlos Arrendondo, in a cowboy hat, rushing victim Jeff Bauman toward ambulances. Arrendondo held tight the tourniquet on Bauman’s shredded leg, successfully preventing the victim from bleeding to death.

Arrendondo symbolizes both two sides of the attack’s legacy. In 2013, he was already no stranger to perseverance and grief. He had attended the marathon in support of a group running in memory of his two sons — one a soldier killed in Iraq, another who took his own life after years of depression. After these family tragedies, Arrendondo had become an activist against war and suicide. Since the bombings, he has worked full-time for charities that raise awareness about violence.

A broad-shouldered man with wild curly hair that spills out from beneath his cowboy hat, Arrendondo would appear the indomitable face of American strength and fortitude. But beneath his tough surface shifts an emotional strain. He is haunted by memories of the bombings — the screams and bloodshed. Since April 15, he has needed pills to fall asleep, feels uncomfortable in crowds, and has developed a fear of flying.

Yet, the cowboy rides on. He speaks publicly against violence, and pushes for a better tomorrow, as do so many others affected by the bombings. In the explosions, ballroom dancer Adrianna Haslet-Davis lost her left leg below the knee. Today, after a long, hard journey of recovery, she is back to performing, dancing with the aid of a prosthetic leg.

Perhaps these victims can soldier on with such determination because of the incredible response locally and nationally. Who can forget the residents of Boston shutting down the city to facilitate the police investigation, and then flocking into the streets to applaud law enforcement after officers apprehended the final suspect. And across the country, citizens united in support of victims and the city — a nationwide rallying cry of “Boston Strong!”

Not all have been so considerate. On the 1-year anniversary, police arrested a man who placed a rice cooker on the marathon finish line as an apparent, ill-humored prank. This insensitive behavior, plus memories of the day’s violence and the lingering heartache, serve as reminder of the pain and challenges that can affect anyone without notice. For those suffering after personal loss or hardship, this exists no clear finish line to renewed spirits and mental health.

But, as Boston demonstrated, there can be hope when determination prevails.

Be it from Arrendondo speaking or Haslet-Davis dancing, from Boston’s strength or the nation’s response, there can be learned from the marathon bombings a lesson in resiliency that should offer solace and support to anyone who has also lived through tragedy: Stay strong!



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