When hundreds of survivors and first responders gather Tuesday in Boston, there will be tears. But there also will be much to celebrate. A city's resilience. The courage of so many. The strength of those who lost limbs and loved ones.
One year after two bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the victims and law enforcement look back on a painful day. (April 15) Gannett
And the running of the Boston Marathon. A year after two bombs claimed three lives and injured more than 260 people, the oldest continuously held marathon in the world, 118 years old and still going strong, will go on.
"I'm really excited because I love being with the other survivors," says Jeff Bauman, the only survivor who lost both legs above the knee. "I hope there's a lot of first responders there. I want to say thank you to everybody."
Bauman will be at the tribute event Tuesday among the 3,000 invited guests and dignitaries and near the finish line on Monday, just as he was last year waiting for his girlfriend, Erin, to finish the race.
He will be there with the hero who came to be known on April 15, 2013, as "the man in the cowboy hat."
"It will be a day of remembrance," says Carlos Arredondo, who was wearing the hat when he tied a shirt around Bauman's legs and lifted him into a wheelchair shortly after the bombs exploded. "To show that we move on with our lives. We grieve and heal."
The picture of Bauman, his face and clothes, blackened and bloodstained, his legs gone, sitting in a wheelchair pushed by Arredondo, embodied the horror of the attack. But it also came to represent the bravery of others.
Arredondo will be wearing a cowboy hat just as he did last year when he handed out American flags near the finish line. When the first bomb went off at 2:49 p.m. ET, Arredondo, leapt over barricades and raced towards those injured. "After such a tragic event, it showed how good people are," Bauman says. "He's one of the heroes. As many people ran away, he ran toward that scene. He just wanted to help and save people's lives."
Since that day, Bauman, a 28-year-old from a Boston suburb who worked at the deli counter at Costco, and Arredondo, a 53-year-old Costa Rican immigrant and peace activist, have remained in each other's lives. They attend each other's family gatherings and even traveled to Costa Rica together.
"He's become like my best friend," Bauman says.
On Monday, a crowd officials say could number a million people will return to the largest crime scene in Boston's history to cheer the record field of 36,000 runners. Security will be tight with double the number of police officers, about 3,500, assigned to the course. Some victims and their families will attend the race. Whether they arrive wearing prosthetics or in a wheelchair, their presence is a sign of resilience. Some want to make new memories, to see a newly painted finish line as a fresh start. Others may never return to that stretch of Boylston Street, the traumatic memories too haunting.
Bauman's goal was to walk again by this year's race. He will do just that with the aid of two prosthetic legs. He's engaged to be married and the couple is expecting their first child in July. He's written a compelling book detailing his recovery and inspirational resolve, Stronger, which was released last week.
But with the hours of physical therapy that remain, there's so much that needs to be done. "I just want to get my normal life back," Bauman says. "Do normal things. Go to work. Drive. I need to get back in my car. But my first goal is starting a family. I'm excited and overwhelmed at the same time."
The sports of his youth, basketball and hockey, will never be played in exactly the same way again. "I know there's a lot of adaptive sports, but I don't know if I'm ready to jump back into that. I miss normal sports so much. I wish I could still play basketball. I can dribble a ball and walk around. When I did that in (physical therapy), I was really excited."
Arredondo's life has changed too. He says he's recognized most places he goes in Boston. He speaks to schoolchildren on behalf of the Red Cross, an organization he first became involved with in Costa Rica.
He also has been able to spread his message of peace and work with veterans groups reaching a larger audience. Arredondo lost one son to a sniper in Iraq and another son committed suicide, which led him to the marathon last year – to hand out flags and cheer on military veterans and others running in honor of his sons.
Arredondo had one flag left last year when the first bomb exploded on Patriots Day. He put it in the back of his pocket when he went to aid those who were injured. By the time the day was over, it was soaked in blood.
On Monday, he will have to hand out smaller flags, as a result of the stricter security measures. How many will he bring?
"As many as I can," he says.