In April and like every year, I was thinking about the Boston Marathon (the world’s oldest marathon), and my heart was filled with a mix of emotions. Disappointed because it was postponed until October because of the pandemic and nostalgia because I was there in 2001, at the time serving in the coveted role as the race’s finish-line doctor. But this year, I was once again overcome with an overwhelming sense of awed inspiration when remembering Adrianne Haslet, a survivor of the Boston Terrorist Bombings, leading the marathon. The former ballroom dancer was a spectator when she lost a leg on that horrific day in our nation’s history.
Adrianne was one of 21 Boston Bombing survivors who competed in 2016. It was her first marathon. When she crossed the finish line on her prosthetic leg, she lifted her arms in a “V” for VICTORY. Even former President Barack Obama reached out and congratulated her via Twitter saying: “Thank you, Adrianne, for being Boston Strong.” Terror and bombs can’t beat us. We carry on. We finish the race!”
We carry on indeed. In fact, many survivors of traumatic life experiences – whether it being the Boston Marathon or the COVID-19 pandemic – find incredible motivation in the wake of tragedy. I write of this extensively in my book, The Win Within – Capturing Your Victorious Spirit. The thing about athletes is this – they inspire all of us because we’re born to be them. It is hardwired into our DNA. Athletes symbolize the greatness that ALL of our bodies possess. Especially for those who have experienced great personal tragedy, there can emerge a strong need to rise up above it – both mentally and physically – often both at once.
But Adrianne was one among 21 survivors in the marathon that year. The 21 people who endured the stuff of nightmares, made a conscious choice to go back to the scene of it all and run their hearts out. I can think of few who are more inspirational athletes than these. People who stare fear in the eye and say: “You can’t have me.” They are heroes. And they’re examples to all of us that, often, the toughest barriers to overcoming deep personal tragedy are rarely the physical ones. Often, they’re our inner voices – shaming us for trying again, rebuking us for walking back into a potentially dangerous situation, shouting that we’ll never again be good enough to do it, whatever ‘it’ is. Yet history has a lengthy track record of proving those inner voices wrong time and time again.
This fitness motivation after personal tragedy isn’t a new concept. In fact, the past has shown us some incredible athletes – from gladiators to modern soccer stars – who are able to overcome and thrive. Perhaps rehabilitation and recovery after illness does something to centralize our focus. Maybe we just want to prove nature and those inner and outer skeptics “wrong.” Whatever the reason – it’s all the same thing – The Win Within. Always present. Ever ready. It’s just waiting for the call. All we have to do is dial.