BOSTON - Wounded veterans from across the U.S. and survivors who lost limbs in the Boston Marathon bombing drew inspiration from one another Thursday as they swapped stories and worked to raise public awareness of the challenges they face.
Marc Fucarile, who had one leg amputated and severe injuries to the other after bombs exploded near the marathon finish line on April 15, said he was honoured to meet the veterans.
"It's reassuring to talk to a wounded warrior that has the same injuries that I have and see their success and see their progress, it's reassuring to me that I can get there and life will be better," said the 34-year-old from Stoneham.
A dozen veterans and 11 marathon amputees gathered at a Boston hotel, brought together by a Chicago-area non-profit called Operation Warrior Wishes, and later took the field for the start of the New England Patriots home opener against the New York Jets.
Wounded veteran B.J. Ganem, part of a group that met with survivors days after the bombings, said Thursday he was impressed by how far they have come and how well they have adjusted to prosthetic legs and feet.
"They're doing wonderful. A lot of them are walking perfect," said Ganem, who lives in Reedsburg, Wis., and lost his left leg he lost below his knee after an improvised explosive device blast in Iraq in 2004. "It took a lot of us a long time to get our gaits right again and everything like that, and they've really picked up the challenge."
Veteran Michael Fox of San Diego, a 28-year-old who lost both legs when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in November 2011, said the veterans and marathon victims are like-minded people in similar situations.
"You have to keep a sense of humour," he said. "It keeps your morale up and helps keep you going. If we can give them any inspiration, it's a bonus."
The meeting was also a chance for marathon survivors to catch up with one another. Celeste Corcoran of Lowell, who lost both of her legs in the bombing, came with her daughter Sydney, who had a severed femoral artery, to meet what she called her "new family."
"Under the terrible circumstances that we all met, there is a common bond that means something to all of us, to see each other and to know that we're continuing to do well," Celeste Corcoran said.
The founders of Operation Warrior Wishes, Craig Steichen, 55, and his son Matt, 29, went on a quest last year to bring wounded vets to football games at 32 NFL stadiums in 17 weeks.
In New England this year, the non-profit was interested in not only bringing wounded vets, but getting them together with marathon amputees.
Mery Daniel, a 31-year-old medical school graduate who lost part of her left leg in the marathon bombings, said that while marathon amputees didn't enlist to fight a war, they were exposed to the same kind of violence.
"We share now a common bond," said Daniel, who lives in Boston. "We share similar stories and similar injuries."
Operation Warrior Wishes collect donations on its website between Sept. 12 and 22, to be divided between the non-profit and The One Fund, which benefits marathon victims.