Like many Bostonians, Lynn Julian Crisci looked forward to the Boston Marathon every year. She wasn’t a runner. Far from it. Ever since 2006, when she slipped on an electrical cord during a performance with her band and was knocked unconscious from the blow to her head, she’d been suffering from symptoms of a severe concussion. She’d been bedridden for a time, due to the fatigue and dizziness, then eventually pushed herself, through hours of therapy, to get around by wheelchair, then walk with a cane.
By April 15, the day of the 2013 marathon, she was finally walking without a cane, taking acting classes and feeling healthy. “Things were looking up,” she recalls. “I thought the worst of it was behind me.”
The morning of the race, she and her partner staked out prime real estate at a sidewalk café table near the finish line, where they sat for hours, enjoying the celebratory fray. Then, at 2:50 in the afternoon, there was a percussive noise, then another. Two backpacks filled with explosives had detonated, leaving three spectators dead and 260 injured. The café where Lynn was sitting was less than a half-block from the first explosion.
Lynn remembers feeling frozen, until her service dog got her attention by scratching her face. As Lynn tried to navigate through the crowd holding the panicked dog against her chest, both of her shoulders became partially dislocated. The sounds of chaos around her were muffled, as if her head was being held underwater. By the time she and her partner made it home, she was nauseated and dizzy. “I hadn’t hit my head, but I had all the symptoms of a head injury,” she says.
The injury landed her back in bed. “It was depressing and dispiriting. I’d made so much progress. The last thing I needed was another setback.”
Several months later, Lynn received word that the Boston Marathon was offering free marathon bibs to those who were injured at the event. She broke down in tears. “Having watched so many of my fellow survivors progress forward in their healing, I was extremely frustrated," she says.
But it also made her think. Over the past seven years, she had put in hours of grueling work at physical therapy. “I’d gone from being bedridden to walking again. Why couldn’t I run a marathon?”
So instead of rejecting the race bib, she took it as a challenge and began her training in December 2013. “At first, I could barely walk a mile on the treadmill’s slowest speed and had to hang onto the rails for support,” she says. But every day she did what she could, and by late February, she was able to jog 10 miles.
“It was painful and exhausting, but by then I was determined to do it,” she says. “After the bombing, I was struggling with extreme anxiety and running calmed me down. It made me feel functional instead of disabled. It changed my mind as much as my body.”
On April 21, 2014, Lynn completed the Boston Marathon. It was six and a half hours of agony, but the payoff was worth it.
“No therapy in the world could have bolstered my self-esteem and self-confidence like finishing the marathon did,” she says. “I still struggle with health problems. But I exercise almost every day, and I don’t see it as a chore. After what I’ve been through, keeping my body strong and fit feels like a privilege. I have learned the hard way that everything in our lives is a privilege."