I Lost My Leg In the Boston Marathon Bombing and I Appreciate My Body More Than Ever
"I vowed I would do everything on my one leg that I'd never done on two."
My family and I recently returned from a ski vacation in Colorado. If you'd seen me wobbling down the bunny hill, you might not have noticed anything different from the hundreds of other tourists enjoying the fresh powder. But a closer look would have shown you I wasn't your average beginner: This wasn't my first time skiing but it was my first time on the slopes on my new prosthetic leg.
I lost my left leg in the terrorist bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon. One moment my 5-year-old son and I were standing at the finish line and cheering the runners on, the next moment... my entire life changed. Fortunately, my body shielded my son from the blast, saving his life-a blessing I am grateful for every day. But the shrapnel ripped through me, damaging nearly every system in my body. It took 18 surgeries and 65 procedures to put me back together. And in the end, they had to amputate my leg. (Related: On the one-year anniversary of the attack, we spoke to Rebekah, as well as a runner and first responder about that life-altering day.)
My son's first visit to see me after the bombing.
Before that awful moment, I'd been a half-hearted runner, at best. (I'd done a half marathon but because I didn't train for it, I hated every miserable, painful step.) But after that moment? I didn't know if running would ever be an option for me again, much less everyday things like walking or driving. As I lay in bed for a year and a half, I distracted myself from the pain by thinking about all the things I would try once I could get up again. I realized I'd taken my body for granted and was determined to never do that again. I vowed I would do everything on my one leg that I'd never done on two and I set my sights on doing the 2017 Houston triathlon.
A triathlon seemed like the perfect goal for me. The running portion will help me honor the experience of myself and the other victims of the marathon attack. The bike will allow me to use my leg in a new way and reminds me of my beloved granddaddy who always wanted to do a tri himself. Lastly, because the bomb blew my eardrums out and swimming has been off-limits until recently, the swim will show how strong I truly am now.
Training for this tri has been a lifeline. Before the terrorist attack I didn't love working out, but now my workouts are the time when I feel happiest and most alive. My husband is my trainer and we train in our garage gym, doing lots of strength work and intervals. It's intense but I've learned that I love the feeling of pushing my body to the limit and that I can do so much more than I ever thought I could. I appreciate every breath, every movement, and even every sore muscle because I know how precious and beautiful my body is.
Not everything is smooth sailing, though. My recovery hasn't been easy and I've suffered many, many complications including problems with my prosthetic leg that sidelined me for most of last year. I still have to use a wheelchair most of the time. And even when it isn't physically painful, it's still emotionally hard. Every day I have to wake up and put on my fake leg and that is never going to change.
But I realized early on that I have a choice-I can spend my time mourning what I lost or I can get to work rebuilding my life to be better than it ever was. I choose the latter. Every. Single. Day.
People often tell me I'm brave, that they could never do what I've done. Here's the thing: You may not have been literally blown up by a bomb, but your life will "blow up" sometime. Whether it's suffering abuse at the hands of a loved one, losing your job, facing a devastating illness, losing someone close to you, or any of the terrible things life can throw your way, we all suffer deeply. And sometimes the internal wounds are even harder to deal with because people can't immediately see them and know you need help.
That's why I wrote my book: to show others how to have hope in the face of adversity and how to reach out to others who may be hurting in different ways. None of us can escape hardship but we can prepare for it.
After the bombing, my doctors told me I'd never be able to have another child, something I desperately wanted. Yet even though the shrapnel had gone through my uterus, somehow I was granted yet another miracle and my beautiful daughter was born just 10 months ago. So this is what I want you to know: No matter what you're going through, your blessings outweigh your problems and beauty can come from your pain-if you let it.
To read more of Rebekah's incredible story, check out her book, Taking My Life Back: My Story of Faith, Determination, and Surviving the Boston Marathon Bombing.