Marines who triumphed over injuries bring hope to Boston Marathon attack victims
Looking up from her hospital bed through tears, she is at first morose and mournful, six days after losing both of her legs below the knee.
“I can’t do anything right now,” Celeste Corcoran says, voice sodden.
That is why the two Marines are here: Between them, they lost three legs and part of a hand in Afghanistan in separate bomb blasts in 2010, their agony then just as unimaginable, their futures just as uncertain.
But the Marines brim with vitality now — smiling, laughing, living examples of overcoming pain and loss like this, standing before Corcoran atop artificial legs purposefully exposed beneath shorts.
“Right now, I’m telling you — you know, with all my heart — you are going to be more independent than you ever were,” says Gabe Martinez, drawing Corcoran in with a reassuring voice, and with the power of his presence.
In the video, captured Sunday at Boston Medical Center and posted this week to a fund-raising page for Celeste and her 17-year-old daughter, Sydney Corcoran, who was also injured, the Marines accomplish the incredible. Within minutes, they have mother and daughter laughing from adjacent hospital beds, even getting Celeste to joke about the upside of her situation.
By Tuesday afternoon, more than 100,000 viewers had watched the clip, a poignant scene ending in uplift for a community and nation craving reasons for optimism amid so much grief and the first signs of healing.
“We’re the exact same,” Martinez says. “This is a new beginning for the both of you, and you know, there’s so many opportunities that’s going to come your way and so much support.”
“That makes me so glad to hear,” says Corcoran, a Newbury Street hairdresser who lives in Lowellcq. She wipes her eyes, smiling a little.
“You have your daughter to go through this with you,” Martinez adds, as Corcoran reaches out to clutch the hand of her daughter, who lost copious amounts of blood in the attack last week but whose leg and life were saved by a man named Matt Smith, seen applying a makeshift tourniquet in a now-famous photo. “And you know this isn’t the end; this is the beginning.”
Where Martinez has the comforting but measured air of a trusted counselor, his friend and fellow Marine, Cameron West, provides the good humor of a favorite uncle, dispensing with formalities.
“Well, obviously, she got her pretty looks from you,” he says, pointing at Sydney and leaning in to hug Corcoran. “Great to see ya. You look good, you look real good. This doesn’t matter. This” — he sweeps his hands in the air above her heavily bandaged legs — “is just a change of scenery. It really is. I mean, Gabe here, he’s moving and running, he’s doing the Paralympics.”
“Really?” Corcoran asks.
Sure, West says. “And you may want to do that too, one day.”
At ease now, she offers a personal tale, about how she had watched the Boston Marathon on TV many times but had never seen it in person, until she went down to cheer on her sister, Carmen Acabbo, running her first marathon.
“She worked so hard to do it, and I was so proud to be there to cheer her on, and she was coming around almost onto Boylston Street — she didn’t actually get to finish the race because of the bomb and everything,” Corcoran says, holding back tears. “So after, I think it was Matthew, her 11-year-old son, said, ‘You know, Mom, are you gonna run the race again next year for Auntie Cel?’
“She said, ‘Yes,’ and when she was telling me the story — I always joke around, like I’m not super athletic. I like to work out and stuff, but running’s never been my thing because I always get the most horrible shin splints,” Corcoran says, and suddenly she is laughing, gesturing, and talking with the pace of a storyteller among friends at the salon, building to the punch line. “But I was like, ‘Hey! I don’t have shins anymore. I’m not gonna be having shin splints. I can do this.’ ”
“That’s the attitude, right there,” one of the Marines says, as the clip ends.
The veterans, ambassadors of a nonprofit called the Semper Fi Fund that supports critically injured soldiers, visited victims at four hospitals in a 24-hour trip to Boston. They deliberately avoided publicizing their trip, focusing on intimate sessions with patients and families.
“We knew that everyone had had a very rough week, and we knew that these guys would walk in and just give them hope and let them know that they were going to be OK,” said Karen Guenther, president of the fund.
But Alyssa Carter, a cousin by marriage who has been managing the Facebook page and website for the Celeste & Sydney Recovery Fund (“our new angel,” Acabbo called her), thought the video was worth publicizing afterward. “Progress, one day at a time,” she wrote.
Guenther agreed. “We all need good stories,” she said.
Acabbo said her sister desperately needed “some support and a pep talk.”
“The reality of what had happened was settling in and no pill could have ever helped to regain her strength and hope for the future like that visit from the Marines did,” she added by text. “The timing was just perfect.”Eric Moskowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.