A year ago, Dan Soleau stood near the blast by the Boston Marathon finish line. A week from now, he'll be crossing the finish line and helping others do the same.
Soleau, the brand development manager for Marathon Sports, was in front of the store on Boylston Street, close to where the first bomb went off on April 15, 2013. When he witnessed the first explosion, his initial thought was that it was a firework that someone brought to the Marathon until he realized the extent of the horrific incident.
"I was knocked out and I woke up on the ground," Soleau said. "The plate glass window had shattered everywhere so there was glass all over the pavement… there was just smoke everywhere, I couldn't hear correctly, everything was just… muddled and I remember looking at, first thing I saw was a girl who had been standing right next to me and her ankle was completely a mess and that was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes and it was inches away from me and I turned my head and the next thing I saw was somebody's knee and…
"I heard one of my co-workers in the front door telling people to 'get inside, get inside' so I just in a daze got up, got inside, and… everything about that chunk of time, that 20 minutes or so, you remember it in bits and pieces, you don't remember it as a stream of real memory, like a movie or something like that, it's snapshots, and pictures."
Soleau and the Marathon Sports staff then began treating some of the injured who were brought inside the store.
"The staff started doing whatever first aid they could," Soleau said. "Using belts and tourniquets, using apparel and t-shirts to dress wounds, using whatever they could to splint, bandage, and stop bleeding. Everybody just went into that mode, that mindset, and finally when the first responders were able to get inside and start assessing the situation, and were able to take over, I think that's when everybody just sort of got off autopilot and that's when we were all sent on our way to get somewhere safe."
The emotional trauma was difficult to Soleau to deal with in the aftermath of the bombings.
"It took a very long time for me to sort of get in a place where I felt like I was purposeful again," he said. "I still have frequent times when there's sorrow or guilt, tremendous amount of guilt. One thought that haunts me is, I'm a pretty healthy guy, and so many of the people that got hurt, I felt like I could have taken injury and sustained it and gotten through it, and that's not to say that it would have been any less damaging, but I feel like I could have done that and it pains me whenever I see any of the survivors, their scars, and hear about their rehab. It's inspiring to see their strength, but there's a tremendous amount of guilt that I didn't have to endure any of the things that they did."
The term "Boston Strong" has been ubiquitous in town since last April, but it has a special meaning for Soleau.
"One of the things I have learned or taken from the past 12 months now is I'm going to cry," Soleau said. "I'm going to feel sad a lot of the time, I'm going to be angry, and frustrated, and depressed. But it's not about being stuck in one of those moments where you feel weak or you feel insignificant… or irrelevant. It's about being able to move past and get though those moments with the support of other people who are experiencing the same thing. And that ultimately is what 'Boston Strong' means. It's not about putting on a stone face. It's not about holding back tears and being stoic. It's about getting through those moments with the help of others and taking a look at the journey as a whole instead of those individual moments of weakness."
Soleau is not only running the 2014 Boston Marathon but he's the mentor for the One Fund’s Boston Marathon team and coach for the Spaulding Rehabilitation Boston Marathon team, as well. And his focus is on the road ahead.
"It's about Marathon Monday and helping as many people as we can cross that finish line," he said. "Because it's such an honor to be able to do that if you are a beginner or intermediate runner and you were able to get one of those charity bibs."