9 years after the Boston Marathon bombing, Devin Pao runs on his own terms

Devin Pao called at the scheduled time, hair still damp, sipping energy drink. The Boston Marathon is three weeks away, and she’s just finished the longest run of her life – 24 miles on the dot, a hilly trail she covered in 4 hours and 16 minutes at high altitude. Colorado Springs hometown. She pushed herself several miles further than the workout set out in the training program she was following.

“From all I’ve heard, the last five miles are really painful, so I want to go as far as I can,” she said. “I feel like I’m ready for Heartbreak Hill. The part I want to finish in four hours.”

However, nine years after the tragedy brought her sudden, unwanted attention, she understands that there are limits to how well she can prepare. She will find herself in an unknown territory somewhere on the course and counts on training to help her through it.

On April 15, 2013, Devin mistakenly ran across the marathon finish line on Boylston Street and pushed an empty wheelchair. She has the conditions to advance to trouble. She knew what she had heard – two bangs, people screaming in panic and pain – but not what she would see or what she would be called upon to volunteer as a college student.

She ran back in the opposite direction immediately then pushed the same chair, carrying a severely injured man named Jeff Bauman. An EMT, Paul Mitchell, and a kind Samaritan named Carlos Arredondo helped her get Bauman to the medical tent on Copley Square. Bauman lost both legs in the bombing, but Devin’s quick reaction saved his life.

Devin will pay an emotional price in the aftermath of a violent attack that left three people dead and more than 260 injured. Photos of Bauman’s rescue were instantly broadcast around the world, thrusting her into the spotlight before she had time to process what had happened. She’s introverted, skipping school, seeking counseling, and avoiding media inquiries, she’s officially gone from celebrity photos for several months.

I was covering the 2013 race for ESPN, and after the bomb went off at 2:49 p.m., I found myself locked up for several hours at a hotel a block from the finish line. The enormity of the suffering around me, coupled with my inability to leave the building and do my job, froze me with grief and anxiety.

In the days that followed, I began looking to document the experiences of athletic coaches who became first responders at the marathon. That report led me to Devin, who was introduced to me by people she trusted when she was ready to tell her story.

She hasn’t stopped moving since, ending her career as a world-class synchronized skater and expanding her professional ambitions. This Patriots Day, Devin intends to cross the Boston Marathon finish line again for the best of reasons.

“I don’t know if there’s ever going to be a closure, and I don’t think just going and running will mean it’s going to close for me,” she said. “I think it’s a way of celebrating community, coming together. I don’t think it means this, I’m saying goodbye.”

Currently working as a physician assistant to an orthopedic surgeon, Devin is running with her father Steve and making a pledge to an entity that means a lot to her. She wrote on her fundraising page: “I have chosen to run for the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital’s Rehabilitation Race team because Spaulding was instrumental in Jeff Bauman’s rehab post-traumatic event. The emperor brought us together in an iconic photo.”

Devin’s 21st birthday was shortly after the bombing. She’s completed a few half marathons and wants to do the full distance before turning 30. “If I talk about it, send it to space, maybe it will actually happen,” she said. he said. She has trained with her husband, Chris, and their German shepherd, Kiira, but has logged most of the miles alone. Her commitment awaits me, just as it did on the worst days.

I promised Devin two things in 2013.

First feel clear. She is still recovering from her injury soon, and I feel a huge responsibility to not let her return. I told her that I would only ask her to recount her experience at the marathon once. In the meantime, I try to understand what brought her to the point where she grabbed the wheelchair. I asked Devin about her family, her studies, and her life as an athlete. I watched her practice with her sync team, the Haydenettes, and talked to her parents, professors, and fellow students.

When it came time to shoot Devin’s interview, ESPN producer Lindsay Rovegno and I agreed that she would speak live in front of the camera. That’s Devin’s story, not mine, and the last thing the world needs are brief snapshots of my reaction.

What I didn’t realize until I entered the dark room was that I wouldn’t be able to make eye contact with Devin. She will lead us through the day while staring into the blank face of the camera. I tried sitting behind the camera controlled by producer Steven Guyot, but Devin’s eyes kept glancing at me as she answered my questions. I panicked. After months of building our relationship, I wouldn’t be able to see her expression and pick up the signs to let me know if she was okay.

Just listenI thought. Pretend you are on the phone. You will know what she is like by the sound of her voice. I lowered my head and fixed my eyes on my notebook. Devin holds his head high and is brave, telling his story brilliantly.

The second promise I made to Devin came after the story and digital video were published in October of that year.

I didn’t know what I was going to say until I said it.

“Our relationship won’t end just because the story happened,” I told her. “We’ll stay in touch. I’ll be in your life.”

Journalists have to leave behind most of the people they write about, even those who invest the most in us and share the most intense things of the times. Our duties often required emotional detachment, and the accumulated volume of words and different circumstances over the years made it impossible for us to carry everyone.

At this point, I don’t understand exactly why I want to make an exception for Devin. I feel protective of her and responsible for her, but she has family, friends and mentors looking for her; she doesn’t need another guardian angel.

We went back to Boston several times in the years that followed, me as a reporter, she as a volunteer on the medical team. I went to see her last against the Haydenettes at the world championships. She took a job with USA Figure Skating, which brought us together at events I attended. We made time for visits to Lake Placid and Salt Lake City and San Jose before she began her two-year physician assistant degree at Texas Tech University.

There were times when she doubted whether she should leave the kingdom of her acquaintances. Moving to West Texas alone and enduring lengthy separations from Chris was challenging. The pandemic disrupted her studies and prevented me from seeing her graduate in person. I watched on Zoom as she walked across the stage wearing her ceremonial white coat.

When I reached out to her to see if she was ready to talk about running this year’s marathon, she took a few days to think about it, then replied with a text: “I’d love to. collaborate with you to add another story!” From collaboration” is impressive, a nod to our origin story and the experience we share from opposite sides of a two-way mirror.

I was in a safe place on that terrible day and Devin was not. Fear enveloped me while she reacted fearlessly. I was stuck, working in the dark, on an afternoon where she saw more than anyone should be asked to go see.

Telling Devin’s story has given me purpose in a situation unlike any other I’ve encountered in my career where I felt powerless in every way. I couldn’t have imagined that just closing my laptop and moving on to the next project. So I didn’t.

She continues to face trouble, but now Devin is qualified to see patients, make diagnoses, write treatment plans, and prescribe medications. She assists in reconstructive joint surgeries and tells of success stories of people regaining strength and range of motion.

The famous photo no longer dragged her back to a place she didn’t want to be. It stayed that way while she was growing up.

Devin says: “Now I look at myself and I’m like, ‘I look really young. “I definitely see myself as a student, nervous, not knowing what I’m doing but very intently focused on getting from point A to point B, not causing Jeff much pain. A very determined face. I’ve got someone’s life. My hands.”

She and Jeff met again in a completely unplanned encounter at the finish line in 2016, and the fact that it happened organically makes her happy. However, he had been her patient for a short time. “I never feel like we have to force any of that,” she said.

It was one of the many connections that bound her to this city, this course, the racing bib she would wear. Her first graduate placement in healthcare was at one of Spaulding’s satellite campuses. She will meet her BU professors and classmates, some of whom are still exchanging messages to sign up on April 15.

And how does Devin envision himself on race day in 2022, ready to go down that same neighborhood? She searched for the right word and found it. Recognize. She admitted what happened, how it tested her, and ultimately it spurred her to think bigger and go further, to continue solving the mystery of how she will be. react.

She said: “It was true that I was just a student at the time. “But I put him in the medical tent, and I feel, that’s all I’ve done? I’ve always wanted to do more.

“I think it definitely prepared me to see I can handle even the most unexpected, traumatic things someone could see. I’m glad I’m one of those who can move on. and help instead of retreating.”

It’s a sign of how far Devin has come when her marathon fundraising page features an image she once wished she could remove from public view. When seen, she represents everyone who acted selflessly that day, and I had the honor of watching her reach the place of acceptance with that. “It’s definitely not the first thing that comes to mind when I meet people,” she said. “If it appears, it will appear. I can’t talk about it.”

She often told me that she was just doing her duty at the marathon. I’m trying to do the same thing, and I’ll probably never get over the way that eventually our path has crossed and allows me to continue doing things I couldn’t get done right away. ie.

I’ll be waiting for her Monday on Boylston Street. 9 years after the Boston Marathon bombing, Devin Pao runs on his own terms

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