As students at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell more than 20 years ago, Roseann Sdoia and Paul Martin traveled the same social circles.
Martin dated one of Sdoia’s sorority friends, but they lost touch after school.
Earlier this year, the two college friends reconnected through tragedy.
Sdoia lost her right leg in the Boston Marathon bombings. She and Martin told their story to Yahoo! Sports before a gala fundraiser dinner for the Challenged Athletes Foundation in New York on Wednesday night.
After attending the Boston Red Sox game April 15, Sdoia and a friend went to watch friends finish the marathon. The two walked to Boylston St. and received a text that a friend was nearing the finish line. They headed that direction and heard the first explosion 15 minutes later. Sdoia knew enough to realize the explosion wasn’t any sort of way to celebrate the finish, especially since the elite runners had long finished.
“I turned to run, and I ran right into the bag [carrying the second bomb],” said Sdoia Wednesday night. “I saw it puff up at my feet.”
Sdoia was transported to Boston Mass General Hospital by a paddy wagon along with another victim. When the police officer driving the paddy wagon arrived at Boston Mass, he was originally waved off to make room for more ambulances, but he backed in anyway.
“The staff at the hospital was shocked when the doors opened up and there were two patients in there,” said Sdoia, in tears. “At that point, I decided that I was in the hands to be.”
Doctors were forced to amputate Sdoia’s right leg. Waking after her first operation, Sdoia immediately thought of Martin. He would know first-hand what Sdoia was going through.
Shortly upon graduating from UMass Lowell, Martin lost his left leg in a car accident. He candidly admits he was driving under the influence and fell asleep at the wheel. Since his accident, Martin determined to live an active lifestyle, competing in 10 Ironman Triathlons in conjunction with events staged by CAF, an organization that provides opportunities and resources for people with physical disabilities to participate in competitive sports.
Dr. David Driscoll knows all about CAF. His 15-year-old son Brendan received a prosthetic leg from the foundation when he was 7.
Driscoll is a regular volunteer at the Boston Marathon medical tent. The 2013 race marked his eighth year, where he typically treats common ailments such as dehydration and low sodium or potassium.
After the second explosion, the coordinator in the medical tent announced that any free doctors and nurses needed to immediately report to the finish line. Driscoll ran outside where he found two EMTs attending to a young woman, who had tourniquets on her leg.
“I was squeezing her hand when she said, ‘I’m not going to be able to walk again.’ I told her, ‘You will be able to walk again,’ ” Driscoll said during a reception Wednesday.
What this woman didn’t know is that Driscoll’s son lost his lower left leg at five, amputated because it didn’t develop below his knee. Brendan is now on the U.S. Junior Paralympic track and field team, training to compete in the 100- and 200-meter dash.
CAF has granted more than 8,200 requests from athletes in more than two dozen countries to help with everything from connecting mentors and mentees to underwriting prosthetics not covered by insurance. The foundation also regularly stages running clinics, including one in New York this coming Saturday and another big one planned for Boston in October.
Sdoia and Martin last saw each other at a party 17 years ago, just as Martin was beginning his athletic career as an amputee. For the first time since then, the two reunited on the phone when Sdoia was in the hospital in mid-April.
“Paul had called the doctor at Spaulding Rehab and said, ‘I want to talk to Roseann.’ The doctor came in and said, “Paul’s on the phone for you,” Sdoia said.
They talked for more than half an hour.
“He was really trying to support me and inspire me and give me pointers from as early on as that day,” recalled Sdoia. “He said, ‘Take one day at a time. Just continue doing what you want to do and you will.’ ”
“I saw nothing but happiness in her eye,” Martin said after he saw Sdoia for the first time. “There was no ‘Woe is me’ on the crutches. It was just a person on crutches. Being new, she’s only seven weeks out, she doesn’t look weak or sad in any way.”
“Being down and depressed isn’t going to help me,” Sdoia said.
One thing that will help Sdoia is Martin. Sdoia’s personal trainer asked her to set a goal for the next year: To compete in a triathlon.
“I’m not so good at swimming,” she said, “but we’ll see how it goes.”