Thursday, November 3, 2016

What It Means To Be Boston Strong

Co-author of Boston Strong

When Boston was attacked by a pair of jihadist brothers in April 2013, it marked the first time since 9/11 that terrorists struck us right in our collective American hearts.

The Boston Marathon is a time-honored city tradition that marks the beginning of spring. It is often the first nice day after a long winter — as it was on April 15th, 2013 — and is annually the first time that Bostonians get out and celebrate sport and life. The Red Sox play in the morning and the world’s elite runners race through our streets, as cafes, shops, and restaurants bustle with tourists and locals excited just to be alive.

So when the Tsarnaev brothers left their bombs on Boylston Street and unleashed a horrific reign of terror unlike any ever imagined in Boston, we all took it personally. And that includes myself and my co-author, Casey Sherman.

Casey and I came of age covering news in Boston, I as a veteran reporter at the Boston Herald and Casey as a field producer for WBZ-TV news. We have both lived and worked in this city for our entire lives. Casey is a graduate of Boston University and I am a proud alum of Boston College. Both are right on Commonwealth Avenue, and students from both of our alma maters were celebrating right along with everyone else that dark day. In fact, several alumni from both of our beloved schools were severely wounded that day, including BU student Lingzi Lu, who lost her life there on Boylston Street.

BC alums Patrick and Jessica Downes were also among those at the finish line that day. The young Cambridge couple each lost their left leg below the knee in the blast, while Jessica has since had her other leg amputated after months of agonizing attempts to save it. The couple exhibit the resilience and spirit of those impacted by the cowardly attacks. Undeterred by their “new normal,” they both finished the 2014 marathon on hand cycles, while Patrick ran the entire 26.2 mile course this past April on a running blade. 

When Casey and I talk about “Boston Strong,” this is what we are talking about. 

Boston Strong is Michelle L’Heureux, a Maine girl who was at Marathon Sports watching her boyfriend run his 10th marathon when the blast tore open her arm and eviscerated her lower hamstring. A lifelong skier and equestrian, her heart was broken when she was told by doctors that she’d likely never have the strength to ride horses or ski again. Not only has she since returned to both activities, she too has run the Boston Marathon, as well as the Paris Marathon.

And we’re happy to report that Michelle and her fiancé Brian welcomed their first child, Sebastien, into this world just a couple weeks ago. 

Boston Strong is also the incredible family of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, who was executed by the brothers as he sat in his squad car on the Cambridge campus. Sean was a hero who never wanted anything more in life than to help people. Well, despite his vibrant young life being unfairly cut short by the brothers’ cowardice, his family carries on his spirit, raising money for scholarships to help other aspiring young officers achieve their goals and keep us safe, just as Sean did.

When Patriots Day, the new film starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Pete Berg, hits the screen next month, you’ll see many more amazing stories of heroism, resilience, and sacrifice. Many you’ll recognize from the pages of our book, Boston Strong: A City’s Triumph Over Tragedy. Others you’ll be hearing for the first time. Casey and I were proud to be able to tell the stories in our book, and are equally proud of the filmmakers’ commitment to honoring those impacted by the attacks. We are extremely proud to be part of this important film. 

These stories are important to share. We are a culture of storytellers, and the incredible tales of those who survived the bombings, as well as those who helped lead us out of the darkness of those days, are essential to pass down from generation to generation. Just as past generations were raised on stories of the heroes of World War I, Pearl Harbor, Vietnam and the civil rights movement, so too will future generations be inspired by the heroes of the current War on Terror, including those right here in Boston.

Casey and I open our book with a re-enactment of the opening salvo of the Revolutionary War at the Battle of Lexington. This pivotal battle helped launch American Independence and gave birth to the holiday we now all know as Patriots’ Day. The film title is apropos, as what happened here in Boston in 2013 — on Patriots’ Day — was another stark example of how Bostonians have historically fought back and won against foreign invaders, often against staggering odds. Whether it’s the Red Coats storming a village or two Chechen brothers attacking us on Boylston Street, Bostonians will defend our land and each other. 

And that, is Boston Strong.

Dave Wedge is an author, journalist, communications strategist and award-winning former reporter for the Boston Herald.

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