Marathon Bombing Survivor Inspires Students in Chapel

"I saw two flashes of white light, then everything went completely blank," Roseann Sdoia told students and faculty gathered in the Frank D. Ashburn Chapel last Thursday.

The former real estate executive had been just feet away from one of the two bombs that exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. Three people were killed in the attack and more than 260 were injured, with 16 losing limbs including Sdoia, whose right leg had to be amputated above the knee.

Now a motivational speaker and author, of "Perfect Strangers: Friendship, Strength, and Recovery After Boston's Worst Day," Sdoia shared her powerful story of pain and recovery with the rapt audience gathered on October 4.

"I wanted to speak at Brooks because I feel like it's important to share my story, especially to students this age," she said following her talk. With all the challenges of bullying and feeling different and self-conscious that teenagers can face, she said, "I think it's important to see that I've made good of something so bad."

And she didn't mince words when she detailed the devastation of the bombing that horrific day, as well as her struggle to literally get back on her feet following six surgeries, dialysis, and grueling physical therapy.

At the time of the explosions on Bolyston Street, Sdoia spoke of the shock she felt realizing that she'd been gravely injured, along with so many others.

"Even though I knew it was chaos going on, I knew I had a choice," she shared in chapel while standing in front of a photograph that showed her at the finish line seconds before the blasts. "To breathe through the pain and to try to get help. I made a choice not to get emotional. I was able to control certain things. I knew I had to stay conscious."

Sdoia told the audience how a bystander applied a tourniquet to her leg, a police officer helped her get a ride to the hospital and a firefighter held her hand the whole way to the hospital, where she lay strapped to a board with her leg straightened — which she called "the most excruciating thing in the whole world."

Then she shared a photograph of herself in the hospital two days later because despite having her leg amputated she said, "I'm smiling."

"No one knew if I'd go back to work again, live on my own again," she said. "There's no 'Amputees for Dummies' book." Admitting, "I had thoughts I don't want to live with this adversity, these obstacles," she added, "[I decided] I wanted to get back to my good life."

"I knew my leg was never going to grow back," Sdoia told students. "I had a choice [about how to deal with that] ... I had to take this situation and remind myself that why we're here in this world. To make good choices and enjoy yourself."

She praised the remarkable support she had, including visits from President Obama (whom she said, "had great skin") and the New England Patriot's Rob Gronkowski ("I love him because he's always smiling, enjoying life"). Sdoia even went on to marry the firefighter who helped her get to the hospital the day of the bombings.

Positivity has taken her far, and that's what she hoped to make clear to the audience at Brooks.

"No one is 'normal," Sdoia told students. "We're all different ... I hope my message of making choices in life came through. You have the power to change situations by the choices you make."

Her message wasn't lost on Brooksians. "She was a good speaker," said Tucker Callahan '19. "I felt like she had something interesting to say."

Lily Quinn '21 reported that she "really liked her message about choices, and how I can put my own meaning to it."

"She was so open talking about everything," marveled Nikki LaPierre '21, who was fascinated by Sdoia's "story leading up to the bombing, and hearing about her choices and decisions."

Ellie Sullivan '22 appreciated how personal the talk got. "She was honest and open and didn't hold back, so you could really get a sense of how brave she was," she said.

Sdoia's call to action has already had an effect as well. "She inspires me to make my own decisions," said Laura Smith '22. "And also take in support from others, but not completely rely on it."

It's a fitting takeaway from the talk, which Sdoia concluded by reminding the audience that, "life really is not a sprint. It is indeed a marathon."

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