When Patrick Downes, BC ’05, woke up in the hospital after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, he had three questions. First, was his wife, Jessica Kensky, okay? Second, did the Red Sox win? And third, did the nurses go to Boston College? The answer to all three questions was yes, he said, and that is when he knew he would make it through.
Downes, along with Brittany Loring, JD/MBA ’13, and Dave Wedge, BC ’93, reflected on their experiences at the Boston Marathon bombings in a panel discussion moderated by Paula Ebben, BC ’89, Tuesday in Robsham Theater. The event, entitled BC Strong, took place on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the bombing and was sponsored by the Office of News & Public Affairs and the BC Alumni Association.
Each year, Patriots’ Day commemorates the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The Boston Marathon is run every Patriots’ Day. Class is canceled for students, and employees get off from work. Along the 26.2 mile marathon track, families and friends cheer on those running, both world-class athletes and recreational runners, Ebben said.
“There is an incredible attitude of freedom,” said Ebben, who reported on the bombings for WBZ-TV all day Marathon Monday and for the next four days.
Now, she anchors the 6 p.m. WBZ-TV broadcast as well as the 10 p.m. WSBK-TV broadcast. She heard about the explosions while she was in the studio, she said, about to head downtown to report on what she had anticipated to be a standard Marathon Monday.
Loring turned 29 on Patriots’ Day in 2013. She and friends went out to watch the Boston Marathon together. As she walked toward the finish line, she was hit by shrapnel from the explosion. Loring recovered in Boston Medical Center for 10 days. Downes, who lost a leg, does not have a strong recollection of what happened when the bombs went off. He remembers his wife—a nurse—attempting to tie a tourniquet around his leg to stop the bleeding although she herself was on fire and her legs were badly burned.
At the time, they had been married for six months. They both lost their left leg. Downes recovered in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for five weeks.
Wedge started working at the Boston Herald in 2013. Though he no longer works there, at the time he was the city hall bureau chief, and was on the way to a meeting when the bombs went off. He began to interview people. The confusion and uncertainty of the scene was comparable, he said, to Ground Zero when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. He has written a book, Boston Strong, about that day.
“The nation had stopped.”
During the Boston Marathon, notable athletes run alongside ordinary people—amateurs. The Latin root of amateur, Ebben noted, is “amator,” or lover. An amateur who runs in the Boston Marathon does it because they love it. That love for the city and for the sport gives the marathon a unique atmosphere, Ebben said.
“It dawned on me that on a Monday afternoon, the nation had stopped and was looking at Boston,” she said. “What the nation saw in the aftermath of such a horrific act of violence was every day people running toward where the explosions where … all those amateurs kneeling and helping other people purely for the love of it.”
In April 2013, Downes and Kensky were set to move out to California, near Kensky’s parents. They opted to go to the marathon one last time before the move. They were not cheering for anyone in particular, but rather for all of those running for various causes. They loved seeing a 300-lb. man cross the finish line, Downes said.
“It was spectacular weather,” Downes said, “and everything crumbled.”
Now, Downes and Kensky start their day in wheelchairs, a constant reminder that they cannot stand up out of bed. Their prosthetic legs are located in a separate part of the room, so they have had to adjust every part of their routine. The couple are now patients at Walter Reed Military Hospital in Bethesda, Md., where they are focusing on regaining all of the mobility they had before the bombs went off.
Loring is doing well, physically—she ran four miles last weekend. But, she still feels pain on a daily basis while she is trying to do regular activities. Despite the severe injuries, she said she did not feel anger at first because she was so focused on healing herself.
“Initially you’re in shock and have to focus on your initial recovery,” she said. “I think that’s what originally got me through it.”
“The onslaught of love.”
Both Downes and Loring noted that their community of family and friends helped them to survive the ordeal. Loring’s friends from her MBA program organized a schedule to bring her food and care.
While she was in the hospital, her fellow students rallied to ensure that she would graduate on time. Shortly after the bombing, she joined a community of survivors that she continued to meet with through the first anniversary of the bombing. She felt the need to speak with people who felt exactly the same as she did.
Downes’ friends from BC started a fundraising page for him. The money was immensely useful, he said, as he and Kensky rebuilt their lives, but it was the sentiment behind the gift that was even more meaningful. During the five weeks he was in the hospital, his mother would sit with him and read the comments left on his page—it became a source of strength for him.
“That was all started by my BC buddies who I used to throw potatoes at and eat chicken fingers at Late Night with,” he said.
To Loring, the oft-used phrase “Boston strong” is about the community coming together. Downes feels that it means “the onslaught of love” that he and the other survivors have felt from the community. It’s a beautiful buzz phrase, he said, because everyone immediately knows what it means.
Boston is a very different city now than it was before the marathon bombing, and it can continue to grow and improve if the positive spirit that came out of the bombing continues to be harnessed, Wedge said.
“That’s really what the marathon’s all about,” he said. “It’s a testament to the human spirit.”
Featured Image by Daniella Fasciano / Heights Editor