The Sunday Conversation
8:53 am
Sun April 20, 2014

A Witness To The Bombing, A Nurse Returns To Boston As A Runner

Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.

As a volunteer for the 2013 Boston Marathon, nurse Amelia Nelson thought should would be there to help runners as they came across the finish line.

"Our whole mission was to make sure that we kinda talked to people as they came across the finish line, ask them how their time was, make sure that they were oriented, make sure they knew what was going on and if they needed an intervention, to take them into the medical tent," Nelson says.

Nelson ended up having to treat far more grievous wounds that day. Three people died and at least 260 were injured in the bombing that occurred near the finish line. On Monday, Amelia Nelson will return to the race course, this time as a runner.

And while the day will be a celebration, she tells NPR's Rachel Martin it will be hard not to conjure up thoughts of that day one year ago when she and her friend Kristy showed up to their duty station.

Just after 2 p.m., Nelson says she remarked how uneventful the day had been, with few runners needing assistance.

"It had been perfect," she says.

And that's when the first bomb went off. She said for a moment the whole world froze, and everyone was looking toward the smoke. It was a moment she says seemed to last forever.

"And all of a sudden that moment is broken by screaming and total chaos," she says.

As an emergency provider, Nelson's training sprang into action and she ran toward the site of the first bomb. After helping people on the scene, she hopped in an ambulance and went to the hospital to help patients there as well.

The recovery from that day has been a gradual process, Nelson says.

"The first time I went back was a couple weeks after ... and it scared me to no end," she says.

The idea to run in the 2014 marathon came from her volunteer team leader, who had run the race before.

"She looked at us and she was like, 'I'm gonna get your girls' numbers and we're gonna run this, and that's how we're gonna make this better," she says.

Nelson says it was hard to mix her training for the Boston Marathon in between her 12-hour shifts as a nurse.

"I'm not one of those people that runs every day; I'm not someone who wakes up wanting to run every day," she says. "But it has certainly been an escape ... [to] be out in the city and appreciate what it is."

The determination to train for and run this year's race, Nelson says, comes from doing it as a community and as a team, as well as doing it for those who can't run.

"I feel like there are a whole lot of people who need this, including myself," she says.

She's anxious the race, but more anxious about the anniversary of the bombing on April 15. She felt a huge sense of relief once she got past that day, and the race is the next step.

"By Monday night, I will be thrilled that it is over," she says. "I feel like I can get back to some sense of normalcy, where I don't need to get up and run every morning."

And, she says, she'll keep running, though probably not distances as long as a marathon.

Keep up with Nelson, one of eight runners NPR followed through their training for the Boston Marathon.

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Transcript

AMELIA NELSON: Our whole job was to make sure that no one hit the ground. Our whole mission was to make sure that we kind of talked to people as they come across the finish line, ask them how their time was, make sure that they were oriented, make sure that they knew what was going on. And if they needed it, intervention was to take them into the medical tent.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

That is the voice of Nurse Amelia Nelson. And those are the kinds of things she thought she was going to be doing as a volunteer at last year's Boston Marathon. But the two bombs did horrific damage, and Nelson ended up having to treat far more grievous wounds that day. Tomorrow, Amelia Nelson will return to the racecourse, this time as a runner. And while the day will be a celebration, she says it will be hard not to conjure up thoughts of that day one year ago when she and her friend Christy showed up to their duty station along the finish line. Amelia Nelson is our Sunday conversation.

NELSON: We were assigned to zone one early in the morning, which was awesome. We were really excited. And so we showed up. It was a little chilly, about 50 degrees, perfect for the runners. I had turned around and looked at Christie just after 2 o'clock and said, you know, it's been sort of uneventful. It's been a great day. None of the runners have really needed our help. It had been perfect. And she, shortly after that, said, you know, I'm going to go off to the bathroom. And then the first bomb went off.

And there was a moment when that first bomb went off - and for some reason I knew it was a bomb - where the whole world freezes, and everyone is looking towards this grey-black puff of smoke rising. And no one moves. And that moment seems to last forever. And all of a sudden, that moment is broken by screaming and total chaos.

MARTIN: And you just kicked into gear?

NELSON: I mean, as scary as it is as emergency providers, we - this is what we train for. You never ever want to be present at one of these things, but our theory is that you always need to be prepared for them. And so I picked up the pace and went straight to the site of the first bomb.

MARTIN: When did you get to go home that day, Amelia?

NELSON: (Laughter). After we had transported all the patients off the scene, I didn't know what to do. And I didn't feel like it was right to go home. You know, I've heard a lot of people say throughout this whole experience that they never felt like they did enough. And this was the feeling that I had at this point. And so I ran into one of the surgeons that works at the hospital. And he looked at me and was like, we have to get to the hospital. We have to go. They're going to need our help. So we ended up in the back of an ambulance on the way to Beth Israel. And I worked from whenever I got there until about 7 o'clock that night and then eventually made it home.

MARTIN: At what point - perhaps it was many months later - but at what point did you decide that running would be part of how you came to terms with what had happened?

NELSON: Our team leader from that day, Patsy, who is this incredibly spirited, unbelievably supportive woman has run the marathon before. And she was our team lead that day. And she looked at us, and she was like, I'm going to get you girls numbers, and we're going to run this, and that's how we're going to make this better. And, you know, running the Boston Marathon is one of those kind of bucket list things that everyone says because you grow up here, and you see it, and you want to do it, and you're like, oh yeah I could do that.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

NELSON: And then you realize that you're going to have to run 26.2 miles, and you're like, oh no, that's OK.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

NELSON: (Laughter) And then this happens, and someone who you hold very dear to your heart says, oh no, we're going to do this. You know, there's no choice in that matter.

MARTIN: Was there part of you that wasn't so excited about the idea of going back to the place where the attack happened? I mean, you could have run in a different race.

NELSON: Yeah, it's been a gradual process. The first time I went back was a couple weeks after, and me not thinking, we went to a restaurant just up the street. And I didn't realize where we were going to be, and it scared me to no end. And then I, you know, spent another couple months not going back, and I ran a couple months ago and ended up there by accident, not on purpose. And it's this place that draws you in. I mean, it's beautiful. It's this, like, quintessential part of the city with the Boston Public Library and the courtyard there and the fountain. And it's green and beautiful and it's kind of a central meeting place for people. And so it's been really hard to kind of let it be what it used to be.

MARTIN: Some when do you find time to train, because you have a busy life?

NELSON: (Laughter).

MARTIN: You have a busy life. You work 12-hour shifts at your job, right?

NELSON: Yeah, we work three 12-hour shifts a week, and it's hard. When I work evening shifts, I run, usually, before I go to work. And I've sort of tried to plan my schedule along around the long runs. I will be completely honest and tell you that I have not been running every day. I'm not one of those people who runs every day. I'm not someone who wakes up wanting to run every day...

(LAUGHTER)

NELSON: ...At all. But it has certainly been kind of an escape and an ability to get out there and, even in the freezing cold, wind, and rain and snow, kind of be out there in the city and appreciate what it is.

MARTIN: So how do you motivate yourself? There's a psychological piece that folks often talk about when discussing the rigors of training for a marathon, that it does take this extra level of get-up-and-go.

NELSON: If you don't give yourself a choice in the morning when you first wake up, and you put on your shoes, once you get outside, you can usually make it happen. And there's certainly, this year, a huge piece about determination of doing it as a community and as a team and doing it for the people who can't. And I just - I feel like there are a whole lot of people that need this, including myself.

MARTIN: Are you anxious in some way for it to be done and over?

NELSON: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Yeah.

NELSON: Oh my goodness. I mean, I was more anxious about the anniversary and having that be over and felt a huge sense of relief kind of getting past that day and just kind of getting beyond that and having this be the next step has been a huge relief. And I think Monday night, I will be thrilled that it's over. Feel like I can get back to some sense of normalcy where I don't need to get up and run every morning. (Laughter).

MARTIN: But will you keep running, do you think?

NELSON: Oh, absolutely. No, I mean, I - yes, I will absolutely keep running, just probably not these long distances.

MARTIN: That was Amelia Nelson. She's one of eight runners NPR followed through their training for the Boston Marathon. You can read their stories and see their pictures at NPR8.tumbler.com. You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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