For Boston Marathon Survivor, Rebekah Gregory, Finish Line Is Just The Start
By Kim Constantinesco
Sometimes, after a traumatic event, moving on means not just stepping away, but running forward.
That’s the case for Rebekah Gregory, 27, who was one of 264 injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings that also killed three.
Gregory was cheering on her future mother-in-law near the finish line, just three feet away from where the first of two terrorist bombs went off.
She acted as a shield for her 5-year-old son, Noah, who was sitting on her feet. Her boyfriend at the time, Pete DiMartino, 29, had briefly stepped away from the crowd to text friends their whereabouts.
“I still basically see images from that day such as bones, pools of blood, nails, and all of the things from the bomb,” Gregory said. “People’s body parts were thrown all over the place. I watched one woman die right next to me. It was a very horrific scene. I was there and I witnessed it, so it was almost like being part of my own personal horror film.”
Of the Boylston Street carnage, Gregory and her family were very much part of it.
Laying in a pool of her own blood and unable to see her legs, Gregory not only thought that she was going to die, but in the chaos, Noah and Pete were each transported to different area hospitals. She mouthed “I love you” to both of them as they separated.
Noah spent five days in the hospital with shrapnel wounds to the back of his head and a bad laceration on his right leg.
Pete was hospitalized for five weeks with a shredded Achilles tendon, fractures in his feet, and second-degree burns on his back and legs.
Gregory, who had been held at gunpoint in a Walmart parking lot just six months before the bombings, took the brunt of the blast.
Her left leg was completely shattered from the knee down while her right leg was filled with shrapnel. She also lost the skin on the back of her left hand. She was in a Boston hospital through May of that same year before being transferred to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, a facility closer to her Houston area home.
In an attempt to save her left leg, Gregory went through 17 major reconstructive surgeries in her time at the two hospitals.
“It caused a lot of pain and a lot of stress,” Gregory said of the attempts to salvage her leg. “I was on pain medicine every four hours, consecutively. Even then, I was in excruciating pain 24/7. I was wheelchair bound for a majority of the 18 months. I was also in a walking boot. It took everything I had to just walk across my living room, much less anywhere else. It was very hard to keep something that was holding me back from so much, and I realized that.”
Reality set in for Gregory, and that was fine by her.
“I had actually told the doctors in Boston, if that’s what it came to and I needed to amputate, then I wanted to because my leg was not my life,” Gregory said. “I was just blessed to still be here.”
She was still alive, and not only was her body changing, but her life was as well. As she was recovering as, Pete asked for her hand in marriage, and moved from Rochester, NY to Texas.
The two wed on April 4, 2014, and even had their dream ceremony and reception paid for by TheKnot.com.
Rather than rolling down the aisle in a wheelchair on her big day, Pete found a crutch leg so that Rebekah could lean on her father as she walked down the aisle.
The leg just always seemed to need extra attention. That’s why Gregory elected to have her leg amputated on November 10th. With her prosthetic leg, she took her first steps on December 31st. Then on January 7th, Gregory got to bring her prosthetic home.
“I called her “Felicia” and said it was a new addition to my family,” Gregory said.
Two weeks later, she did something that she never even considered before the bombings — She jogged.
“I used to think how do people run, ever?”
At a follow-up appointment, doctors asked her if she wanted to run.
“It was kind of crazy because when I went into the appointment that day, I had a really big blister on my leg from where the prosthetic rubs the bottom of it, so I wasn’t really anticipating on jogging that day,” Gregory said. “Of course, I’m not going to tell the doctors ‘No.’ It hurt really bad, but at the same time, my adrenaline was pumping so much. It was just a very exhilarating feeling.”
A Start from the Finish Line
Not only is Rebekah running just three months after amputation, but she’s decided to take on the race that started it all.
She will be running in the 2015 Boston Marathon.
“I think the appeal is that I want to show people that didn’t destroy me that this made me stronger,” Gregory said. “Boston is such a huge part of my life now. There was so much left at the marathon that day, that this is my way of taking it back. It was really important for me to run this year and not next year just because everyone is telling me that I’m crazy and I can’t do it. It’s very hard to train for a marathon anyway, but after just having my leg amputated a couple months ago, it was important for me because my life is no longer in limbo and it’s moving forward. The marathon and running it, shows that for me.”
Rebekah hasn’t been running as much as she would like to based on some setbacks, but she works out daily with Artis Thompson, a dear friend and trainer, who is a below-the-knee amputee thanks to a motorcycle accident.
“If I didn’t have him showing me the ropes, and knowing exactly how far to push me, I don’t know if I would be able to get this far,” Gregory said.
Marathon Monday has taken on a new level of support. Boston and all those who travel to cheer racers on, have embraced the survivors and the race itself even more than before. That alone, Rebekah says, is what will prevent her from quitting.
“I’m way too stubborn not to cross the finish line in April,” Gregory said.
Closing Chapters One Day at a Time
Before Gregory crosses the historic finish line, she will have to testify against 21-year-old bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
“The whole trial process has been a little harder than I anticipated,” Gregory said. “My heart just goes out to the jury, who has to make this tough decision, the Judge, and all of the survivors and families that have to relive this horrific event. We live it every single day and there’s not a minute of my day that I don’t think about it. Even though it happened almost two years ago, it’s just part of us now. I know that I’ll just go in there and say what I need to say, and it’s not going to stop my life from moving on. Hopefully, in a way, it will be a little bit of closure maybe.”
Gregory deserves closure. She still suffers from nightmares on a nightly basis, and she can no longer go to firework shows “because of the smell and the sound,” nor can she even go to a parade.
Naturally, getting to the start line of the marathon will prove to be just as monumental as crossing the finish line.
“I know that the marathon in that regard will be extremely hard for me, but it’s just something that I have to do,” Gregory said.
In the Blood
Gregory is picking up speed, literally and figuratively, as she moves on.
“I think that my purpose is very apparent to me because Boston is just a piece of my story,” Gregory said. “There have been things that have happened over the course of my life that I shouldn’t have made it through, and I should have died. I believe that I have been able to reach out to inspire and encourage others through my struggles. Even though it’s hard to be in the public eye, and I would much rather go back to my normal life before all this happened, I’m thankful that I have been able to help people and that’s what I’ll continue to do for the rest of my life.”
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