Bombing survivor feels stronger with time
MANCHESTER - Last April, Denise Spenard was one of the hundreds of spectators wounded when two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
This year, she's running the race.
"Because I was an injured victim, I was given the chance to run Boston," she said.
Spenard is a devoted runner and she's run half-marathons before. But Boston?
Her first reaction was: No way.
"Then, when I got the official invite, everything changed."
Spenard, who lives in Manchester and works at Easter Seals New Hampshire, has been going to watch the Boston Marathon for years. Sometimes with her husband, John, and sometimes with friends.
She was with a couple of girlfriends last year. They had just gotten a coveted high-top table outside Atlantic Fish on Boylston Street and were about to sip their espresso martinis.
Spenard sent a text to her husband: "Now it's getting good."
That's when they heard the first ominous boom. "It sounded like a cannon," she said.
She doesn't even remember the second explosion. But she felt a pain in her abdomen. "And I looked down and I'm bleeding."
She and her friends crawled into the restaurant and then went out the back, running as fast as they could away from the chaos behind them. One friend tied her scarf around Spenard's waist to control the bleeding.
Spenard said she thought it was gunfire she had heard; it turned out to be shrapnel striking the metal fencing. And that's what was embedded in her abdomen.
It was a stranger who flagged down a car, and another stranger who drove Spenard and her friend, Christine Lewis of Goffstown, to Massachusetts General Hospital. There, "everything happened so fast. The medics were on me, I was in X-ray."
The metal in her lower right side had not hit any vital organs, so the emergency doctors turned their attention to the new casualties coming in the door.
"They saw so much more trauma come in after me," she said. "I started seeing people coming in with blood everywhere and bandages."
The hospital was in lockdown. Agents from Boston police and the FBI came to talk to her.
She persuaded doctors to let her have the surgery to remove the shrapnel at Elliot Hospital later that week.
"I was petrified to go back to Boston," she said.
Federal agents came to Manchester for the surgery to collect the shrapnel as evidence. Spenard later learned it was a piece of the pressure cooker used to build the bombs that had killed three and grievously wounded so many others.
A year later, Spenard's physical wounds have healed, and she's doing well emotionally, too.
"Just those loud, unexpected noises will get me," she said. "I'm assuming that will go away."
Because they ran out the back, Spenard said, she didn't see a lot of the carnage that day and thinks that may have spared her some emotional trauma.
"I think because I missed the worst of it - I missed the casualties, I missed the limbs, I missed the blood - that helped me," she said.
As a survivor, Spenard got two bibs for this year's marathon; she asked Lewis to take the second one.
Lewis wasn't hurt physically by the bomb, but said it's been a different story emotionally.
"There's just not a day goes by that I don't think about it," she said.
Unlike Spenard, Lewis does remember the second blast that knocked her and her friends to the ground. She remembers seeing Spenard bleeding and thinking she had been shot.
And she remembers the pandemonium: "Everybody panicking in the restaurant, trying to make phone calls, and it just wasn't happening. Just the sheer terror on people's faces."
Lewis has never run a marathon before and said she was "horrified" when Spenard first asked her to run Boston with her this year. But it was an opportunity she couldn't turn down.
And as the day approaches, the anticipation is building.
"I get the chills thinking about the spectators and how amazing they're going to be," Lewis said.
"I'm really excited to move forward in life. Every trauma brings something positive, I believe. You just take these challenges, and it makes you a stronger person."
Spenard said despite her own injury, she feels lucky.
"I've seen how so many other people were affected."
While so many survivors lost limbs, she's about to run the Boston Marathon. And she's grateful, she said, that "it didn't happen to my kids and it happened only to me."
She has been having a little trouble sleeping as the marathon approaches. And she wonders: "What's it going to be like going down Boylston Street?"
But she's really excited, too. Three other friends from her running club - Narri Dowd of Goffstown, Muriel Saliba of Hooksett and David Lawrence of Deerfield - will be running, too.
And her husband will be there cheering her on, with their younger daughter, Sydney, who is 12.
"I'm nervous about that," she conceded. "I'm just so afraid - God forbid something happens - that he doesn't let her out of his sight."
Her older daughter, Kendra, will be there, too; so will lots of co-workers and friends.
Not going would feel like a kind of surrender, Spenard said. "So now it's like: I'm going back. They didn't win."
Lewis said her husband, Kevin, and 9-year-old son, Braedon, will be following her progress along the 26.2-mile route.
But she's asked them to meet her after the race in a common area set aside for families and friends, away from the finish line.
"I would rather them be over there," she said.
She's hoping what she's doing will inspire her son.
"I just think it's really healthy for him to see that adversity sometimes makes you stronger," she said. "You get through things. You just keep taking those steps forward."