April 15th, 2013. A day many of us will never forget. A marathon. A bomb. And too many victims. A day that I promised myself that at some point I would make it out to Boston and meet those affected by them. Whether it would make a difference to them, I didn't know. But to me it would, and I needed it, to make things seem OK. I got my chance last week and it was a trip I won't soon forget.
The Semper Fi fund is a non profit that financially supports the needs of wounded sailors and marines. They recently started America's Fund which helps anyone wounded post 9-11, regardless of their branch. I had heard great things about the Semper Fi fund and was thrilled to see them in action for a few days.
I have had the good fortune of getting to know Bobby Donnelly, a fellow veteran who lost his leg below the knee a few years ago. He works for the Semper Fi fund and they have been active with the Boston survivors from the beginning. He and others, to include my good friend Hailey, have been multiple times and developed a strong relationship with many of the survivors. Bobby was generous to ask me to accompany them to Boston the past 2 times they've gone, but it's never worked out. Until now.
We got to Boston on Monday afternoon for a wine event with the Boston victims scheduled for Tues night. Myself, 4 other wounded veterans and the staff from Semper Fi. A Monday night dinner and getting to know the group solidified why I've heard such great things about the organization. They are a team that is truly dedicated to their mission and I was honored to be there.
On Tues morning, I got a run in along the St Charles river and stopped on my way back at Boylston Street and the exact place the bombings took place. As I stood there, across from the library, in front of the running store, it was all I could do not to breakdown and scream as some people in this world truly suck. And so often those that are affected by their acts are always the ones that deserve it the least. I saw the infamous finish line painted on the street and thought about all those that should have finished that race and weren't able too. I made my way back to the hotel angry at the thought of someone wanting to destroy all that we have here. All that makes up America.
A few hours later, we were headed to the Boston Winery and I was nervously excited to finally meet some of the new amputees. As we got out of the van we were greeted by Roseann, a new above the knee amputee from the bombings. She had on her prosthetic leg, was walking with a cane, had her toenails painted and was wearing a flip flop type shoe. She was off to a great start. We chatted for a long while, about her prosthetic, about life and whatever else came up. She was there with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend that was one of the firefighters that brought her to the hospital that fateful day. Talk about a Lifetime movie in the making..
As we were talking, Celeste walked in. Celeste lost one leg above the knee and the other below the knee. Her daughter was also wounded and they were there together with Celeste's husband. Roseann got up, walked over and gave her a hug, exclaiming how great she looked. She was walking un- assisted. No crutches, no cane, nothing. Just her and her new prosthetics. And then came Jessica and her husband Patrick. The young, married couple, that would be celebrating their one year anniversary that weekend. Both below the knee amputees, and Jessica with some severe damage on her right side. If Jessica and I would have met on the street we would have been fast friend. Their story is a tear jerker, both wounded, brought to different hospitals, rehabbing together and the obvious love that they share. We talked most of the evening about that day, life since then and what the future looked like. Both of their families were there, moms, dads and siblings and you could tell that they were strong together. Just like Boston strong, they were a family strong.
As I got up in the middle of the event, I looked over and saw all these once strangers, with this common bond all sitting together. We saw Celeste take off her BK and pass it around, we saw laughs, smiles and some concern when talking about the struggles they have. It was this moment that I realized these people were no longer victims of the bombings, but they were survivors. Survivors of a tragic day that forever changed their lives. And it's their attitudes and their perseverance that makes them the heroes that they are. It's not what happened to them, but how they handle themselves after. Will there be tough days, absolutely. But their strength is what makes Boston Strong, and that's what makes America strong and the great country that we are.
As the event ended, numbers were exchanged and I truly hope that I will be in touch with some of them in the months to come. Since I've gotten back to Chicago, I've shared the stories of all of these survivors with anyone that will listen. I've thought of them, of Celeste and Roseann and Jessica and Patrick and all that they share and it moves me. As much as some people in this world suck, there are always more people that come out on top and shove that suckiness in the face.
Thanks to Semper Fi for making this trip possible. And maybe, just maybe, someday I'll cross that infamous finish line on Boylston street. And maybe some of them will too. Because in the end, mean people never win. But survivors do.