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Marathon Bombing Survivors Reflect on Recovery Journey at Documentary Screening

Patrick Downes, BC ’05, visited his alma mater on Thursday with his wife, Jessica Kensky, to reflect on their ever-winding path to recovery after they each lost a leg almost four years ago in the Boston Marathon bombing.

On April 15, 2013, the newlywed couple was watching the race in close proximity to the finish line when Boylston Street erupted. Two homemade explosives, constructed by brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, sent a citywide celebration of human accomplishment into pandemonium. Three people lost their lives, one of them an 8-year-old child. Downes and Kensky each lost a leg. The trauma led the couple, along with many others, down a journey of physical and emotional recovery.

After an introduction from Downes recalling the profound effect the tragedy had on his family and the rest of Boston, the audience viewed the HBO documentary Marathon.

The film focused on the long-term impacts the bombing had on its victims and archived the recovery of families of those who lost limbs, including Downes and Kensky. It documents the horrors of the event and its aftermath, but most importantly the resiliency of the survivors.

Early on in the movie, the audience experiences real footage of the finish line in the minute leading up to the explosions. The slow wave of the runners crossing the finish line, ignorant to the impending doom, silenced Gasson Hall, the audience daring not to breathe.

Once the documentary was over, Downes reflected on the psychological steps he had struggled through by his wife’s side, along with his motivations to move on and continue living.

Unfortunately, it has been difficult for Downes and his wife to move on completely. Kensky endured many complications with her injury, and has had dozens of operations on her leg. As shown in the film, the constant in-and-out of the hospital had worn her out emotionally, making small tasks into obstacles.

“We don’t know what to say anymore, it’s awful, it’s a persistent hurt,” Downes said.

Downes recounted times when he and his wife had taken some scary falls, their brains still believing their bodies had two feet.

“Sometimes it’s just kind of funny, but other times it can be catastrophic” Downes said, citing the reason for his wife’s most recent trip to the emergency room.

Despite the challenges of daily life, Downes dove back into running as soon as he could, determined to conquer the Boston Marathon with a running prosthetic. In 2016, he accomplished his goal, leading to an emotional moment with his wife at the finish line.

He spoke about the daunting task of simply training for a marathon, and how he was spurred on by his wife’s desire to have him “reach his full potential.” Of the 26 miles he ran, and he said that the 21st mile passing BC was his most memorable.

“I usually run a mile and walk a minute, but when I hit BC, I just walked the whole way because I wanted to soak it up,” Downes said.

Downes said he’s thankful for the education he received at BC, commenting that it was the school’s teaching him how to sort through the gray areas in life that made his recovery more manageable.

Downes contrasted his involvement in Marathon to that of the new movie, Patriots Day, a reenactment of the five days between the blasts and the arrest of the final brother.  He said that he was much more involved in HBO’s portrayal, because the other film’s producers “cut him a check” and interviewed him for just a couple of hours.

Downes was also unsure about whether either film was a successful portrayal.

“You have to take all of these stories [about the bombing] as a whole,” Downes said.

Downes described how exciting the race is to bystanders—the whole city finally getting out into the spring weather and partying on all sides of the course—and expressed his sadness that the terrorists would target something so innocent, and that the damage to its image would last forever.

“It’s such a cool representation of community, and then of course there’s this incredible black mark on it,” Downes said.

Featured Image by Lizzy Barrett / Heights Editor

February 27, 2017