Brooks School students were just starting out in life, the youngest wrapping up preschool, when domestic terrorists detonated bombs at the Boston Marathon finish line in April 2013, ending the lives of three race spectators and injuring hundreds.
Yet when Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky, two of the 17 people who lost limbs, visited Brooks yesterday to share their story after the 10th anniversary of the bombing, the couple’s vivid recollections brought the tragedy to life in the most moving and inspiring way.
“It was one of my favorite speaker events that we’ve had here,” said Amelia Mallon ’23 following a question-and-answer session with Downes and Kensky, leg amputees who published a children’s book about the service dog Kensky got to help with her recovery, Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship.
“The way that they told their story, and mentioning how they coped with humor, gave me a different perspective … and it was sweet to see Rescue,” Mallon added. “I thought service dogs were just for blind people to have a sense of direction.”
The black lab Rescue quietly lay next to Kensky’s seat on the stage while she and Downes detailed their experience during the bombing and ongoing recovery (including a three-year stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center) to the packed Center for the Arts audience.
Frank talk about the challenges they’ve faced healing and changes to their life plans was peppered with joyful moments, too. Downes, currently working as a clinical psychologist, proudly demonstrated how a prosthetic running “foot” has allowed each of them to get back to participating in one of their favorite pursuits: jogging.
Kensky, an oncology nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital, introduced Rescue to students while fielding questions about how the canine has helped her rebound emotionally, as well as offers some household help (Rescue can fetch her a blanket on command!).
The hour-long visit “taught me about perseverance,” Yota Fukui ’23 said. The bombing “could have traumatized them forever, but by looking forward, looking positive, they turned their lives around and embraced, sort of, what became a part of them.”
Ella Oppenheimer ’23 described the couple’s talk as “really engaging” and said her takeaway was a valuable life lesson. “It just made me think about how important it is to be present in the moment and how quickly things can change. They made the best of what happened to them.”
The sixth-form students who were able to linger afterward and play around with Rescue got a first-hand glimpse at the pup’s power to pep up people. The dog stole the spotlight licking faces and making new friends instantly.
Yet, it was Downes and Kensky who made a lasting impression.
Evan Wirth ’23 was so moved by their motivating visit he is planning to buy their book for his sisters. “I really enjoyed how it was a positive message that they were trying to share, how with such a negative event that basically stopped their lives, they turned around so quickly and so positively.”
The fact that they “decided to impact other people with their journey and their story, that’s what hit me hard,” he added, commending the way that the couple has been championing disability rights. “They could have just taken the private route and dealt with [their healing], but they decided to help other people and do exactly this, speak with people and at schools. I think that’s really nice.”