Inches before crossing the finish line of the 2016 Boston Marathon, Adrianne Haslet-Davis paused and took a close look at the yellow and blue paint on Boylston Street. She took a step forward with her prosthetic leg, letting the springy artificial foot touch the finish line while raising her arms above her head.
It took her 10 and a half hours to get there, as each left step worsened the bruising, chafing, and swelling on the end of her residual limb. She was forced to stop for an hour and a half at the mile 14 aid station while her support crew and doctors tried to adjust her prosthesis to allow her to continue. But really it took her three years to reach that spot on Boylston. She was one of 16 people to lose a leg during the 2013 bombings, and she considered finishing the Boston Marathon a major part of the recovery process.
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Now, weeks after the race, Haslet-Davis said she is still healing while keeping a rigorous schedule. She was recently named to the board of the nonprofit organization Limbs For Life. She tours the country giving motivational speeches. She has plans to summit Cayambe, a volcano in Ecuador, and run the Celebrity Mile at the Runner’s World Classic in North Andover, Massachusetts, on July 16. And she adopted Fred Astaire, a labradoodle that is certified as a service dog. The name is a nod to Haslet-Davis’s career in ballroom dancing before she was injured.
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She spoke with Runner’s World on May 26 about her struggle to finish the Boston Marathon, her upcoming ventures, and how Fred is helping her cope with post-traumatic stress.
Runner’s World: Now that you have had a chance to fully recover and process the Boston Marathon, how does it feel to finally be able to say that you finished it?
Adrianne Haslet-Davis: Oh my gosh. It feels really incredible. It still feels surreal. I was just looking at some photos and thinking, ‘If I didn’t have these photos I wouldn’t believe it happened.’ It was such a magical, memorable day. I am so proud of finishing and so proud of the team that got me through it. Even though I came in a bit later than I thought I would, I wouldn’t change a thing.
RW: In the second half of the race, were there times when you thought would not be able to finish?
AHD: There were times I thought I wouldn’t. I don’t take any shame in that. But I had made a promise to myself to not give up unless I was physically unable. And I wasn’t incapable of walking. I knew that that meant I may not cross the finish line until after dark, but I knew that I could walk it. I knew that I could finish it. I just wanted to keep going.
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RW: At the halfway mark you stopped in an aid station for an hour and a half. Can you describe what happened inside the tent?
AHD: My thought process leading up to the med tent was just to get there. Then I laid down on one of the cots. A member of my pit crew was there and they pulled my leg off. I was sure I was going to see blood but I didn’t see any. But I was bruising my bone on either side. And my leg was swollen because it was a hot day.
I had taken off my leg at mile six or seven and then put it back on and that was a huge mistake. A prosthetic is not like a shoe. It is rock hard. So we had to figure out how to fit my swollen leg in and keep it comfortable. In the med tent I decided to take a big risk and not wear a liner. It freed up an extra millimeter of space to allow for the swelling.
RW: What did that feel like?
AHD: It’s excruciating. It feels like pins and needles are going into the side of your bone. From the med tent on, I not only had a bruised knee, but I was walking on my tibia and fibula with every single step. It felt awful, really awful. If you make a fist and see your two biggest knuckles, it’s like walking on those. That’s how much is protecting the bone.
RW: When you did reach the finish line, you paused for a moment before crossing the threshold. Why?
I remember my team was all in a huddle at the start line before the gun went off. Someone asked what I wanted to do at the finish. I said I want to pause, all hold hands, and cross together. I don’t know where it came from but I was so glad we did that. So many people run their first marathon and push themselves and the finish becomes a blur. I wanted to be present in that moment. I wanted to watch my blade cross it. And stand on it.
I had pictured that moment for so long. Four days after the bombing I said I was going to run the marathon. That was three years of thinking about that moment. I wanted to lock it in my brain. And I did.
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RW: Since the race, you have been fairly outspoken about the fact that you are still healing, which is one reason why you you’ve adopted a service dog. Can you tell us a little about Fred?
AHD: He has been really amazing, which I think goes without saying. What I have learned is that people say, “I thought you were okay; I thought you were all better.” What I tell people is that you are never really recovered. It’s a new normal. Which is why I knew I wanted a service dog, and I have been looking for a long time.
Fred will help me with post-traumatic stress. My most frequent trigger is sudden and loud noises. City noises are fine and noisy places are fine. It’s when you are in a quiet spot and you hear the popping of a balloon or a car backfiring. While giving a speech once, the mic popped and I hit the deck. Fred is trained to hear the noise and put his paws on me and comfort me to calm me down.
He will also help with balance when he gets bigger, especially in and out of the shower. He will be able to stand at the shower and let me put a hand on him for balance until I give him a command.
RW: Have you been on a run since the marathon?
AHD: I went for a run this morning actually. It was good, but it was a short one because it is really hot out. It feels good to be back in the blade.
RW: Do you have any plans to run a marathon again?
AHD: I would love to run another marathon again. Never say never. But I am not making any promises. I would hope to get a better time. But my marathon is still my PR and I am proud of it.