Derek Gentile: I will always cheer for the survivors



I was watching all the coverage of the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing. I saw all the folks with new legs and feet.

Boy, did that take me back.

Some of the footage shown of the survivors of the attacks who were injured depicted them taking their first few steps with their new legs. I remembered those days.

In fact, I'm seriously considering writing a book, "Adventures in One-Leggedness," or, "If I Miss the Start of the Butt-Kicking Contest, Start Without Me." It would be about what to expect and what questions to ask to what doctors in the wake of losing a leg or foot. There's a lot of undiscovered country in this situation for people.

Anyway, one of the things about that first time up on the parallel bars is that a huge sense of triumph washes over you.

It comes from all that has gone before. For a long while, I'd been sitting in a wheelchair for so freaking long. A lot of the time, one has to rely on people to help one get in and out of cars. At the very least, one has to let them fold up your chair and store it.

Going up stairs, some of the time it was OK. I would hang onto the railings and one-foot it up. But I would still need someone to, again, fold up the chair and bring it up or down.

My friends and relatives were so relentlessly supportive about all that, that I don't ever recall feeling particularly frustrated. But sometimes, I chafed at requiring all the assistance.

So once you get up on those bars that first time, and put your weight on the new leg (or legs) there's a feeling of relief. You know, "I'm up. I'm going to be able to do this. People won't have to help me now."

But eventually, and usually sooner rather than later, there's another feeling. It's trepidation. Maybe fear.

Because sooner or later, here won't be a phalanx of physical therapists applauding as you get up, and as you walk first a few steps, then the length of the bars, then up and back.

I remember it hit me the day I got home to Great Barrington. There wasn't going to be anybody applauding the next morning.

And more than that, this is what I was going to have to do the rest of my life. No one was going to come to me in a few months or years and say, "OK, big guy. The ordeal is over. Here's your foot back."

Please don't get the idea that I broke down sobbing. That's not my style. I just remember thinking, "Well, this is mostly my fault. So I'd better get good at this."

And I did.

I want to say that zooming in on some of those people just a year after the bombings may not have been fair. It took me longer than a year to get my stuff together. Yeah, I was up and around after a year for the most part.

But there was still some discomfort where the end of my leg met the prosthetic. That goes away, eventually. But for a long time, you are constantly (or at least, I was constantly) trying to figure out ways to not get up and walk.

In this business, that's a problem. I wasn't confined to a desk. I was up and walking around, covering sporting events. I found leaning against something to do postgame interviews helped ease the pain a lot. So I started a lot of interviews with, "Excuse me, but let's move over here. I need to lean on something."

Anyway, I have nothing but good wishes to all the survivors of the bombings, and I'll always root for them. I've walked in their prosthetic shoes.

To reach Derek Gentile:,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile


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