Jeff Bauman shares his story of recovery and hope following the tragedy and how he felt seeing his life played out on screen.
Just four years ago, two men detonated homemade explosives near a packed finish line at the annual Boston Marathon. Three people were killed, hundreds were injured, and 16 victims lost limbs because of the attack. Jeff Bauman was one of those 16.
Bauman worked at the deli counter of a local Costco before the tragedy. He went to the marathon to cheer on his then-girlfriend, Erin Hurley, who was running the race with some friends. When the bombs went off, Bauman was close to the blast and ended up losing both of his legs above the knees. Thankfully, Hurley was unharmed. A photo of him being pushed in a wheelchair by paramedics and fellow survivors immediately after the blast quickly went viral. His body was covered in soot, and he was missing one leg with the other stripped to the bone. Bauman soon became the symbolic face of the Boston Marathon Bombing, an example of all those whose lives were forever altered that day.
A few years later, he now has two prosthetic legs, a newborn daughter, and a best-selling memoir. Bauman’s story is now the subject of a film starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Stronger, which hit theaters September 22nd, chronicles Bauman’s journey from the time of the attack through his recovery, highlighting his struggle to heal from a horrifying injury and to help others do the same.
Guideposts spoke with Bauman about the new movie, his path to sobriety, and how he’s using the tragedy to help others.
GUIDEPOSTS: The million dollar question: What’s it like having Jake Gyllenhaal play you on screen?
JEFF BAUMAN: Jake did an incredible job. He was invested since day one and took the time to really get to know me —my personality, my accent (which I would say is approved by Boston audiences, and that’s half the battle), how I move, what hurts … he asked questions no one else really did. I can’t believe how much he nailed it.
Off screen Jake and I have become close friends. I just feel so lucky to know him and I know this relationship will last long past the movie.
GUIDEPOSTS: In your book, you’re very honest about the struggles you went through, the struggles your family went through following the bombing, and the strain in your relationship with Erin. You two announced earlier this year you were getting a divorce. Was it important to you that the film not gloss over those aspects of your recovery?
JB: There is so much going on in the world today with terrorism, violence, and acts of nature. I think it is important for people to see what happens behind the headlines when all of the cameras are gone. It’s not always pretty, but I hope seeing my struggles will help others.
GUIDEPOSTS: What can you remember about the day of the bombing and waking up in the hospital after your surgery?
JB: I remember everything -- the moments leading up to and immediately after. I saw the bomber and just remember thinking how out of place he seemed -- everyone was cheering and having fun and he was so serious. I didn’t have any time to think; once I noticed him it was too late. In the ambulance I remember telling the medics that I knew who did it but they thought I was just in shock. When I woke up the first thing I did was ask if Erin was ok. When [my family] was telling me about my injuries I could see the pain in their faces and cracked a joke. I just wanted to make them feel better. Then I told them I knew who did it and everything after that just happened so fast.
GUIDEPOSTS: Your sense of humor really comes across in the film. Has that helped you in the recovery process?
JB: Humor is what got me through all of this. You have to be able to laugh, even in the toughest of times.
GUIDEPOSTS: You’ve been open about your struggles with alcohol after all of this happened. Is there a moment that stands out to you when you realized you were using alcohol as a bit of a crutch?
JB: It took me a while. After Nora [my daughter] was born I realized that while being hung-over and trying to function on prosthetics is hard, trying to chase after a two year old is pretty much impossible. I felt and looked terrible. I had to make a change for myself and for my family. I’m 15 months sober and can never imagine going back to that life.
GUIDEPOSTS: You lost both legs above the knee. What was the rehabilitation process like for you?
JB: It is so much harder. Prosthetics have come a long way and the technology is incredible but it is still pretty tough to completely replicate the knee joint and all that it does. Stairs, driving, and just balancing, everything is a huge challenge but eventually you find your groove.
Physical therapy has always been hard. In the early days I thought I could just do it myself and would blow off appointments but eventually I came around. My PT Michelle Kerr is amazing and also plays herself in the movie. I was not easy to deal with back then and I’m glad she didn’t give up on me. Now I visit my team in Florida a few times a year for a refresher and that keeps me going.
GUIDEPOSTS: You’re going back to school for mechanical engineering. Do you hope to be able to create new prosthetics and help people heal from injuries the way you did?
JB: Yes, I hope to get a job at Ottobock, the company that makes my legs and perfect the fit of sockets on prosthetics. I still struggle with that and just want to pay it forward.
GUIDEPOSTS: How do you think this experience has changed you and your outlook on life?
JB: I obviously wish this never happened, but I’m trying to make the most of it every day. Without the support and new relationships I’ve made since the bombings I don’t think I would have ever gone back to school. I have a beautiful daughter and so much to be grateful for. Despite all that has happened I’m still a very lucky guy.
In 2001, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I wasn’t a good candidate for chemo. I took tamoxifen instead and gave my trouble to God—just as Dr. Peale suggested in his book, "Thought Conditioners". Since then I’ve remained cancer free. -Guideposts Magazine reader