Saturday, April 26, 2014

The People Who Are Boston Stronger

He was the face for Boston Strong at the Bruins game last May. Yet as he says in his book, "Stronger," "I'm not a hero. I'm just a guy with no legs."

I felt honored and blessed to have met Jeff Baumann who is indeed a hero at a book signing at the Team Store on Yawkey Way before we were scheduled to take the field at Fenway for the pre game ceremony tribute to the Boston Marathon.

There was such amazing synchronicity throughout Marathon weekend. Despite thousands of people in the City, we seemed to be bumping into people we knew at every turn. We arrived early for the book signing not sure of how long the lines might be. We were greeted by the person who was working with the publisher for the publicity for "Stronger". Since there were no lines yet, Tom and I decided to take a walk around Fenway until it was time for the signing. As we were walking, Tom told me that we know that person who was working with the publisher. We thought about it and were finally able to come up with who it was.

We returned and a small line had formed. Jeff took time with each person in line, chatting, signing and patiently taking photos with all who wanted their photos taken with him.

While we were waiting, the person working for the publisher looked at us and us him and we said, Jeremy Solomons, right? He told us this is his new gig now. He explained that the publisher invited Wellesley Books, where he is the store manager, to be the bookseller on record. He came around from behind the table and hugged us. He shared with the woman assisting him that our kids used to babysit for his kids. He pointed out his son Jared who we could barely recognize given the passage of time. We caught up with each other and then it was time to meet Jeff.

Jeff is gentle and humble. We told him how honored we were to meet him and then I felt moved to share my story with him. When I told him that I contracted paralytic polio as a child and 7 years ago went back into a leg brace using a wheelchair at times for mobility, being given the diagnosis of post polio syndrome, a progressive neuromuscular disease but went on to run the 2009 Boston Marathon as a mobility impaired runner, his eyes lit up. He kept looking at me from head to toe saying, "You look so good. You're doing so well." I could see the feeling of hope going through him. We talked about Spaulding and how I continue to go there twice a week for Aquatics Therapy classes. He told me he goes for outpatient therapy once or twice a week as well. We didn't talk about where we were last April 15. There was no need but we did mention that we volunteered for this year's marathon as packet stuffers and would be taking the field at Fenway. He was excited saying that he would be there as well.

Part of being Boston Stronger is allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with each other. We acknowledged how challenging it is to live with a condition that will require care and treatment our entire lives. While I am blessed to have my legs, and certainly cannot compare the challenge of amputation with my challenges, we do share the challenges of living with residuals from trauma, healing from surgeries, and living with a condition that requires daily care and vigilance. Yet we also share resilience, persistence, gratitude and feeling lucky despite all that happened.

With his eyes sparkling with youthful innocence and excitement, he shared with us that the Red Sox invited him to be a part of batting practice. He told us it was the first time he was able to throw a pitch standing up. "Every other time I threw the pitch from the wheelchair." Gomes hit a home run off of him but he didn't care. He was thrilled to be out of his wheelchair and able to stand on his own.

I'm almost finished reading Jeff's book. I am so impressed with his honesty. He allows himself to be raw and vulnerable. Yet he consistently talks about how lucky he is and how grateful he is to everyone who provided him with an outpouring of kindness and generosity during his recovery.

As he shares in "Stronger", after the Wounded Warriors visited him at Spaulding last year, he set a goal for himself: to be able to walk when it was time for the 2014 Marathon. Taking the field at Fenway, he met that goal and exemplified what it means to be Boston Stronger!

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