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Ironman athlete and triathlon coach Nicole Gross was standing at the 26-mile mark of last year’s Boston Marathon with her husband, Michael, and sister, Erika, anxiously awaiting their mother, who she’d coached for the race. Moments before, she had chatted with a client who just finished the race as training for Ironman Lake Placid. Wanting to greet Gross’ mother at the finish line, the trio began moving closer to the iconic finish arch. The crowds and cheering only got louder as they got closer. And then, the first bomb went off.
Gross was thrown to the ground by the explosion. An image of her battered, blood-specked body and dazed expression appeared on the front page of newspapers and quickly went viral, representing the collective horror of that day. She would spend 34 days in the hospital recovering from a list of injuries including a severe left leg fracture, a wound on her left calf that required a skin graft, shrapnel wounds to both legs, and a nearly severed Achilles tendon in her right leg. The sound of the explosion burst a hole in her right eardrum, resulting in some hearing loss. Her husband suffered burns and some hearing loss, while her sister had her left leg amputated in addition to a shattered right leg and foot.
“My life was flipped upside down,” says Gross, now 32. Once an aspiring pro triathlete, she says her athletic mindset helped her recovery progress. “I had to take baby steps using the attitude and focus I had used in swimming and Ironman,” she says. “It helps me persevere through more pain than others might be able to handle. I was really determined to quicken my recovery.”
Last November, Gross’ mother, Carol, ran the Thunder Road Half Marathon (a Boston qualifying event), again trained by her daughter, with sister Erika completing the 5K while being pushed by family and friends in a wheelchair. With Gross using a walker, the three crossed the 5K finish line together, as one more step forward in their recovery.
And when Carol crosses that finish line in Boston this April 21, Gross will be waiting. “Seeing her cross that line will be the closure that we need,” she says.
Multisport racing will continue to be a passion for Gross, but with a definite shift in outlook, she says. “I have been forced to have a new perspective on life, but also have a sense of grounding where there is more to life than identifying myself as an athlete. I am learning to enjoy things a lot more and not having to put that added pressure on myself.”
In fact, she and her husband have been in talks with USA Triathlon about establishing an adaptive sports program. “We are hoping that Boston allows us to do good through something tragic and create a nonprofit or some kind of charity that can benefit people like my sister.”