The year since Jeff Bauman was pushed in a wheelchair from the Boston Marathon, his legs ravaged and his face ashen, has been marked by pain and difficulty but also by triumphs: He’s learned to walk on new prosthetic legs, he’s gotten engaged and he’s an expectant father.
Bauman became one of the most recognizable and powerful symbols of Boston’s resilience after the April 15 attacks — immortalized in an Associated Press photo that shows three rescuers rushing him from the scene. He became a hero days later when he was able to help authorities identify one of two brothers accused of setting off pressure cooker bombs, killing two women and an 8-year-old boy and injuring more than 260 others.
The past year has been a blur for Bauman, and he can’t get used to the idea that this is his new life.
“Right now, you know, it’s kind of a challenge to put my legs on every day. I’m not used to it. It’s something unnatural for me. But I think over time it will become more of a natural thing,” Bauman, 28, told the AP in an interview at the home he shares with his fiancee, Erin Hurley. “At first I couldn’t even wear them for 20 minutes. … Now, I can wear them all day.”
Bauman was standing near the finish line with two friends, waiting to cheer on Hurley as she completed the marathon, one of the most important and busiest events of the year in the city. He noticed a man who looked out of place in a crowd of revelers, and they exchanged a long stare. As Bauman describes him, he was “all business.”
Moments later, the two bombs exploded. Bauman found himself on the ground, his legs gone. People rushed in to help, but Bauman thought it was the end. Suddenly, a man in a cowboy hat appeared: Carlos Arredondo. He lifted Bauman into a wheelchair pushed by Devin Wang, a Boston University student, and they rushed toward the medical tents. They were joined along the way by Paul Mitchell, an EMT with Boston EMS.
“When someone looks that way, they’ve lost a lot of blood, and they’re really close to being dead,” Mitchell said.
Thanks to his rescuers, he lived. He was in surgery within 20 minutes at Boston Medical Center.
Soon after Bauman woke, he was able to provide a description of the man who was “all business.” Authorities say it was Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in a shootout with police in Watertown days later. Tsarnaev’s brother, Dzhokhar, has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
Bauman calls the brothers “weak” and says they wasted their lives. He said Dzhokhar Tsarnaev must suffer from knowing what he did, especially killing a child.
“You can’t tell me that that doesn’t eat away at that kid every single day. It has to. It must haunt him,” he said. “Or if it doesn’t, it eventually will.”
Bauman has focused on healing and learning to manage his new legs. He lost his legs above the knee, making it harder to adjust to his prosthetics. It takes more energy to walk with prosthetics than it does to walk normally, which means he gets tired easily.
He has made steady progress, and by March, he was walking with one crutch. He hopes to someday be able to walk without the crutches and to use the prosthetics all day without his legs getting sore, as they do now.
Sleeping was tough for him the first few months, and he still has nights when his mind is racing too fast to get any sleep. Days can be tough, too.
“I have bad days, days when I just don’t want to do anything. Just kind of want to lay in bed,” he said. “I don’t want to see anybody today. There’s days like that.”
Bauman is on leave from the Costco store where he worked in Nashua, N.H., before the bombing. He wants to learn how to drive again before going back, and he has a rigorous rehabilitation schedule that requires several appointments a week. He also feels he’s not prepared mentally to return yet.
For now, Bauman and Hurley are preparing for the baby, due July 14. They got engaged in February and tentatively plan to get married next year, Hurley said.
Bauman admits he has some jitters.
“I’m kind of scared, I don’t know. I mean, I just want to be able to be there physically when the baby’s running around and going nuts,” he said.
They don’t know yet if it’s a boy or a girl. To be safe, Bauman painted the nursery a neutral shade of gray. The couple moved into a home in rural Carlisle, northwest of Boston, in the fall. Before then, Bauman lived with his mother in an apartment in Chelmsford, an old mill town to the north.
Hurley says Bauman is still deciding whether to go back to school or pursue other opportunities that have arisen since the bombing.
“He can do anything he wants really. But all he wants to do is walk. I think that’s a good goal for now,” she said. “Plus, we have the baby coming. That’s going to be a big project. Like a lifetime project.”
For this year’s marathon, the couple plans to spend some time at the race, though Bauman admits to being apprehensive — not because he’s worried it’s not safe but because of his celebrity.
“I’m kind of scared about that,” he said. “I don’t want to be mobbed and hoisted up in a crowd.”