At the 2013 Boston Marathon, Jeff Bauman took his place at the finish line, just another guy there to cheer for his girlfriend as she finished the race. Within hours, he was the first face many of us associated with the bombing. A searing photo showed him being wheeled away from the blast site, his face ashen and his legs amputated below the knee, being assisted by a couple of good samaritans including bystander Carlos Arredondo (one of our 2013 Men of the Moment).
Within days, Jeff awoke from a series of surgeries—a relief to those of us who were following news of his condition on Facebook—and became a hero, describing one of the bombers to such an extent that both were tracked down. A year later, Jeff is 28, engaged, expecting his first child, and has written Stronger, an account of the bombing and his life thereafter. He talked with us about his recovery process, anger and optimism against all odds.
Congratulations on the book. When did you decide you wanted to write it?
Well, I kind of had to get talked into it. I was kind of skeptical at first because I thought it was too soon. It was just last summer. I was dealing with coming home and focusing on building up my new life. The company from New York came and they talked me into it. My mom wanted me to do it. She thought it was a good opportunity. It just kind of happened, and it turned out really well.
Did you have any hesitation about reliving that day?
I did, but at this point, I’ve been telling my story so much to everybody that I’m just kind of used to it. I kind of imagined it would be like a relief so that people would stop asking me about my story because they could just read it in the book. [Laughs.] But people just like to hear me tell it, and I get so much great feedback.
How is your recovery going? How are you feeling right now?
I feel a lot better than I did last year, and it’s going real well. I do outpatient physical therapy once or twice a week.
“We became like the best team in the world trying to catch these guys.”
How has your life plan changed?
Taking care of the house. Learning how to walk again. I kind of feel like a toddler because I’m learning how to walk. And I have a child on the way! A lot of stuff on my plate.
Did you ever have any doubt that you would get married and have a family?
At first I didn’t think I was going to be able to. But it just goes to show that anything is possible.
Did the engagement go according to plan?
Not really. [Laughs.] I planned to do it, and she kind of found out about the ring. So I panicked and did a spur-of-the-moment thing. It wasn’t really as romantic as she wanted it, so … she eventually said yes, but it took a little while.
Jeff at home with his fianceé, Erin Hurley, in their Boston home. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Did writing the book help you process anything? Was it cathartic?
Yeah, absolutely. I didn’t really know a lot of the details of what happened, and the pursuit of the two suspects when I was in the hospital. I got to meet the Watertown police and go over everything with them, and that was really cool. After that, we became friends. They’re great people to have on your side. I really respect police officers on a whole different level, because I know exactly what they went through. They went over it with me: How scared they were and how crazy things were that night of the shootout.
The bombing suspects wouldn’t have been captured without your ID.
Maybe they would have down the line, after they hurt more people, but I definitely put a start to the whole investigation. I’m just glad I got to do that and that everybody else did their job so well afterward. We became like the best team in the world trying to catch these guys, which was awesome.
Do you think about that very much?
I do. It feels really good sometimes when I’m down, like I helped out. I’m just kind of proud of myself, and everybody who helped save my life that day. I’m just proud of the whole city, in general. We all did a great job.
Of course, you were in one of the iconic photos of the incident. Have you seen the photo?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s in the book. I don’t sit there and stare at it. But there are four great people around me. They’re amazing for what they did to save my life. I respect the photo, and it is what it is.
How often do you get down these days?
Every day, it’s hit or miss. I just try to stay as positive as I can. It’s hard working with the prosthetics. That’s frustrating because they feel different every day; either they hurt, or I have some nerve issues. Other times, they can feel really good. You don’t know what you’re going to get, day in and day out, but I deal with it.
How do you stay positive?
I look to my friends and my family to help me out, really. My dog helps me out. [Laughs.] If I’m feeling down, I’ll call my cousin and be like, “Let’s go out. Let’s go do something.” If I’m not feeling good, I’ll talk to my fiancée, and she always talks me through things. I see Carlos a lot, too. He lifts my spirits every time I see him. We try to see each other as much as we can.
How often do you think about the fact that he was one of the people that helped save your life?
Jeff and Carlos Arredondo at the State of the Union Address in January 2014
Do you get angry at the bombers?
No. I don’t even think about them. Then you have another waste of life. I just don’t think about them at all. There’s no reason to be angry. There’s nothing I can do. It’s all out of my hands.
What’s next for you?
Here and there, I’m going to be doing talks and book signings. I’m going to try to go back to work at Costco and then maybe find a different job. I’m really interested in the prosthetics and helping people around the world with that. Whatever I can do to help, I’ll be there to help. I’m also interested in counterterrorism, maybe a job with the FBI or the Boston P.D.
What motivates you?
It’s tough to get motivated, but definitely getting my independence. Any time I go out, I have to be with somebody that drives me around. I’m going to get driving and get on with my life, getting out into the world by myself. Super-independence.
Buy Stronger (Grand Central Publishing) on amazon.com.
(Top photo: Elise Amendola/AP)