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Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Denise Spenard lives to run another race

April 21. 2013 12:24AM

Moving trucks the entrance to the parking lot at the top of the steep driveway at the Farnum Center in Manchester on Wednesday as Easter Seals readied its new drug and alcohol treatment center.

Denise Spenard should have been home recuperating from the injury she suffered at the Boston Marathon, but she couldn't stay away. After all, she had flown to Milwaukee months ago with a co-worker to check out the couches, beds and wardrobes manufactured by the company that ultimately got the bid, and she needed to make sure they were arranged correctly. And someone needed to order the right kind of mulch for the landscaping. She didn't want that bright red stuff or the dark kind that looks like dirt. As the nonprofit's purchasing director, Spenard had been working on this for months, and the piece of shrapnel buried in the right side of her abdomen was not going to stop her. She had a job to do.

"I wanted to see what was going on," said Spenard, 46, who began working for Easter Seals more than 26 years ago as a secretary when she was still in high school. "I was crawling out of my skin. I needed to be here."

When it opens in early May, the Farnum Center - a major overhaul of the building that was once the Queen City Motor Inn - will include a 40-bed residential treatment program with separate living areas for men and women, a 20-bed detoxification unit and outpatient counseling services. Last week, the Queen City Avenue center secured its licensing from the state and was scheduled to receive its certificate of occupancy.

In other words, a big week for Spenard, who helped direct the placement of furniture on Tuesday from home via an Apple FaceTime video link with Cheryl Wilkie, senior vice president of substance-abuse services for Easter Seals.

If Spenard had hoped coming in to work for a little while was going to take her mind off the explosion that fired a dime-sized piece of metal through her skin, it wasn't happening. Not in an age when you can watch breaking news on your phone, as Spenard was doing with a co-worker as a photographer took pictures of her in a spacious common area.

Spenard, like the families of the three people who died and the 176 who were wounded in the two pressure-cooker bomb blasts, is looking for answers. But she's quick to say she is one of the lucky ones. She did not lose any limbs. She will run again.

"I know I'm lucky," Spenard said, as she talked about the horrific events of Monday with Wilkie. "The FBI told me to play the lottery."

Spenard talked to a Union Leader reporter about her experience on Monday night on the way back from Boston, and a couple of hours later she reluctantly opened the home in Manchester she shares with her husband and two daughters to a TV news crew from WMUR. Since then, she's watched other news agencies like CNN and "Good Morning, America" recycle her story, but she's been mostly mum.

Spenard, a long-time runner, had gone to Boston to watch the marathon. She heard an explosion and felt something sharp as she and her friend, Chris Lewis, were pushed by the crowd into the Atlantic Fish restaurant. She didn't realize she was injured until she saw blood on her abdomen. Spenard said she doesn't have much else to say about what happened, but she had no trouble answering a direct question from Wilkie: "What's it like to have a piece of metal inside you? Really?"

A piece of metal that forensic investigators will examine as evidence.

"I don't think I feel it. It's painful, but that's just because of the hole," Spenard said. "I think it's up here," she said, pointing to her wound, "because whenever I change the dressing I get a sharp pain where I pull the tape."

Spenard also suffered a contusion to her right shoulder, which she discovered was bruised once she changed out of the hospital scrubs she was given at Massachusetts General Hospital on Monday. The pain it was causing her prompted an emergency room visit in Manchester that night. (She had the shrapnel removed Friday morning at the Elliot Hospital in Manchester, avoiding the need to return to Boston.)

On Wednesday, Spenard sported a baseball cap and a zippered-sweatshirt, like she might have worn if she were going for a run. That is what she was doing Sunday when she among the 1,500 runners who participated in a fundraiser for the victims of the last national tragedy: the December shooting deaths of 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Spenard ran 8.5 miles as part of a team in the "26.4.26" relay marathon in Gilford. Each runner wore a laminated "angel" pin featuring the name of one of the child victims and a teacher. On Spenard's was one for 6-year-old Madeline Hsu.

The number 26 loomed large on Monday, too, Spenard said.

"That was Sunday, and Monday, the day after, we went to the marathon for 26 miles to spectate. When we checked in our room at the Westin, we were on the 26th floor in room 26," Spenard said. "I remember being in the elevator thinking this is just weird. Something's weird about this."

But like so much about the events of that tragic day, it's something that defies explanation.

Spenard describes herself as someone who can't sit still. The message she would like to get out is a simple one.

"That I was one of the lucky ones. I get to still run. Nothing happened to my legs."

Mike Cote is business editor at the Union Leader. Contact him at 668-4321, ext. 324 or

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