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Marathon Bomb Survivor from Dracut: 'You Will Find the Strength to Move On'

Boston Marathon bombing survivor Roseann Sdoia, center in white jacket, poses with current and former members of Alpha Omega, the UMass Lowell sorority she was in, after speaking at University Crossing Thursday.
Boston Marathon bombing survivor Roseann Sdoia, center in white jacket, poses with current and former members of Alpha Omega, the UMass Lowell sorority she was in, after speaking at University Crossing Thursday.

Lowell Sun
By Cassidy Swanson

LOWELL -- After losing her right leg in the Boston Marathon terrorist attack, no one would blame Roseann Sdoia for harboring anger. But for the University of Massachusetts Lowell alumna who grew up in Dracut, that's just no way to live.

"It's really not important what happens to us, but the important part is how we react to what happens to us," Sdoia told a room full of UMass Lowell community members as part of the university's Women in Business Speaker Series on Thursday afternoon at University Crossing. "A positive attitude is really what helps you get through your issues and your obstacles."

Sdoia, who graduated from UML in 1991 and lives in Boston's North End, was standing near the marathon's finish line on April 15, 2013, and sustained serious injuries when one of two explosions planted by terrorists killed three spectators and injured more than 260 others.

Most of her right leg was blown off from an explosion, and required amputation from the knee down.

While Sdoia had been successful in her life -- achieving her dream of living in the city, and rising to the rank of vice president of property management at a real-estate company -- nothing could have prepared her for how her life would change that day. All she could do was do what she always did: stay positive.

"Taking on the feeling of the chaos that was surrounding me would not do me any good," she said, recalling the day. "I knew that I needed to take control of my situation. And one of those lessons that I learned back in Dracut was not to panic in case of an emergency, to remain calm.

"In the two and a half years since the attacks, this same attitude of focusing on the positives has helped Sdoia adjust to her "new normal."

"Taking on negativity really can put you at a stand-still, and I think creates more obstacles that you have to get over," she said. Instead, Sdoia chose to tackle the obstacles placed in her path: everything from accepting the loss of her leg, to deciding to keep living in her second-floor walk-up apartment despite obvious challenges, to testifying in the trial of bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

She even started running again, something she loved before her injury -- and ran the last half mile of this year's marathon.

One of the most important things she's learned, she told the crowd, was being able to ask for help when she needed it.

"It's really important to be able to rely on others, and you guys should do the same," Sdoia said. "Whether it's other classmates, or advisers within the school, they're there to help, and it's OK to ask for help."

Sdoia said she felt called to share her experiences with audiences because she wants to encourage others to make tough choices and pull through hard times.

"You need to understand that you will find the strength to move on, and you will find the strength to be unstoppable," she said.

"Because I did."

During a question-and-answer period, Sdoia admitted that she does struggle at times to maintain her positive attitude.

"There are days -- especially in the beginning -- where I just cry all day," she said. "But in my mind, I had a good life before, and I still could have a good life. I knew it was up to me to make that choice."

Sdoia told The Sun that her talk at UML had taken on new significance since the terrorist attacks in Paris last week.

"I want people to understand that it's important to reach out to others," she said. "The support that they need right now is tremendous... and I think it's important for people to realize that you can make a positive thing out of it.

You can be OK after something bad happens, and (embrace) all the good that comes out of it. But I think for Paris, it's so new to them right now that we as Americans need to step up and support them."

Students were touched by Sdoia's courage.

Junior Kellie O'Brien praised Sdoia's attitude, saying, "She's just positive about everything."

"She didn't let this ruin her life," said sophomore Morgan McKenna. "The fact that she's able to talk about (her ordeal) as well and as confident as she does is amazing."