On April 15, 2013, two bombs detonated near the finish line of the annual Boston Marathon killing three individuals and wounding several hundred others, including 16 who lost limbs. Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA) created the Boston Strong Adaptive Sports initiative to offer grants and access to events for marathon survivors with permanent physical disabilities.
Five years later, the Boston Strong Adaptive Sports Initiative, which has supported a dozen individuals, is still supporting survivors. Steve Woolfenden, Roseann Sdoia, and Marc Fucarile lost limbs as a result of the tragic event that took place that day. But that hasn’t stopped any of them.
Steve Woolfenden was invited to the 2013 Ski Spectacular organized by Disabled Sports USA, a little over six months after the below-the-knee amputation of his left leg. Although he had skied before the bombing, the Breckenridge, Colorado, event inspired him to get back on the snow. “To me, it wasn’t whether I could do it, but if I would like the way I would have to do it versus before—or whether I would have the passion for it, and I do, even more so,” Woolfenden said.
That passion has led him to volunteer with Spaulding Adaptive Sports program and coach lessons at Waterville Valley and other locations. His goal is to become a PSIA-certified Level I instructor. In addition to snow sports, he is passionate about road cycling, mountain biking, and swimming. DSUSA helped purchase a prosthesis for use in the water. “This really allowed me to accomplish one of my goals of participating in a triathlon,” he said. In addition, it allowed him to swim with his family, including his son, Leo.
Roseann Sdoia also went to Ski Spec in 2013, which she describes as an amazing experience. “It was early on in my recovery, so it was an emotional experience for me in so many ways,” she said. “If I was going to try something, this is the best place to do it, given all the support and equipment that is provided.”
She has tried a number of adaptive sports over the years. “Trying to find the right niche for me the
past five years has been challenging,” she said. She is taking a yoga class, which she finds rejuvenating and is currently doing water aerobics. “You don’t have to wear a prosthesis in the pool, so it gives me some freedom,” she said.
Although Sdoia received a running prosthesis within a few months of bombing, she is just now getting into that activity. “I was not ready for it, mentally and physically,” she said. Early on, her residual limb had some fluctuation, including shrinkage and other challenges but now it has stabilized. She also had to spend time getting her muscles conditioned. “You really do need to learn how to walk before you can run,” she said.
One of Sdoia’s accomplishments was completing the Empire State Building Run-Up in 2017, the annual event that has participants racing up the 86 flights of stairs (1,576 stairs in all). She completed it with her husband, Mike, who happened to be one of the first responders to her the day of the bombing.
Marc Fucarile was the last Boston Marathon victim to be released from the hospital a little over three months after the event. The second bomb was beside him and took his right leg immediately, significantly damaged his left leg (which has been salvaged with the assistance of multiple surgeries), and resulted in other injuries.
Like the other two, Fucarile joined DSUSA at Ski Spec. “I wasn’t even in a leg yet so I learned to ski, and participated in sled hockey, before I learned to walk,” he said. He continues to monoski, which allows his son to join him on the slopes.
Handcycling is another adaptive sport that Fucarile enjoys. He regularly participates in long-distance events, including half marathons and marathons. He typically enters about four marathons a year and has done the Disney Half, the Boston Marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon, and other marathons in New York, Los Angeles, and Detroit. He has done the Boston event in 2016, 2017, and will again in 2018. It is his favorite event, and not only because it takes place in his hometown. “It is because of so many factors, including the crowd, the time of day, and the route,” he said. “Over the full distance, there are more fans here than anywhere else. The route allows for people to observe and support the runners.”
He does smaller races, like the 5K and 10K variety to lead up and prep him for the marathons. “I really don’t train,” he said. “I know physically what condition I am in.”
The common thread between Woolfenden, Sdoia, and Fucarile is the fact that all three are appreciative of the support they have received through DSUSA’s Boston Strong Adaptive Sports Program. All three want to pay it forward. Woolfenden continues to coach and teach skiing at his local adaptive sports program. Sdoia has written a book, “Perfect Strangers,” to help share her story with the hope of also being able to help others. She also wants to become a peer mentor. Fucarile not only does motivational speaking, but helps volunteers at Granite State Adaptive Sports, a chapter of Disabled Sports USA in New Hampshire.
NOTE: This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Challenge magazine. To see the full issue, or receive a free subscription to the magazine, click here.