Former New England Patriot Joe Andruzzi carries a woman from the scene of blasts at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
The Boston Globe
(Our continuing series about the Boston bombing tells the tales of more than two dozen people directly affected at last year’s marathon. So 2014 is the comeback, because 2013 was the knockdown. This is our latest installment. Read their stories.)
The Joe Andruzzi Foundation slogan, (Up)Beat Cancer, succinctly sums up what the organization is all about: remaining upbeat in the face of adversity.
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This year, the foundation will not only apply that attitude to its continuing efforts to provide emotional and financial support for cancer patients and their families, it will extend that philosophy into its attempts to heal from the tragic events at the Boston Marathon last April.
The foundation, started in 2008 by former New England Patriot Joe Andruzzi to provide financial and emotional support to cancer patients and their families, held a watch-party at Forum, a restaurant near the marathon’s finish line, to cheer on its runners and continue to fundraise for cancer.
The tone of the day quickly changed when the second of the two bombings near the finish line exploded directly in front of the restaurant.
Former Patriot Matt Chatham, his wife, Erin, JAF board member Peter Riddle and many others from the foundation were standing out on the patio in front of the restaurant when the bombs went off. Once they realized they were okay, they sprang into action to help others who were not as fortunate.
Through the mess of smoke, injured bystanders and debris, Erin Chatham spotted a woman on the ground whose leg was badly hurt. The woman kept trying to get up but couldn’t, and she was nearly trampled as people ran panicked in every direction.
Matt Chatham, a former linebacker, picked up the woman and moved her to a safer spot in an alley. Along with Riddle and others from the foundation, the Chathams stayed by her side until emergency personnel arrived.
“I couldn’t think about anything until I knew that she had help,” Erin said. “We didn’t know for certain – she was bleeding really badly but she was still conscious, so I was having conversations with her, even little things like, ‘It’s okay’ and ‘You’re going to be okay.’ I didn’t have the opportunity to think about anyone until I knew she was okay.”
Meanwhile, Andruzzi and his wife Jen were farther down the street. They had been at the finish line to greet their runners when the bombs went off, and like the Chathams, Riddle and the rest of the foundation, they started immediately helping people who were injured or in shock.
“Your goal in life is to have the right people surrounding you at all times and I think that was really evident that day,” Jen said. “Even the people who are supporting the foundation, whether it was staff member, volunteer, board member, the staff at Forum, everybody stepped in. We could not have been prouder of any individual.”
In the weeks following the marathon, the foundation attempted to figure out how to heal. In the short-term, they met with a member of the Red Cross, who explained how people might feel in the days, weeks, months and years following a traumatic event.
In a more long-term form of healing, 47 members of Team JAF, including Riddle and Erin, decided to run the 2014 Boston Marathon, more than doubling last year’s total of 21 runners. Jen Andruzzi was planning to run as well until an injury forced her to drop out in March. The foundation will also return to Forum for another watch party.
I can run one more mile or I can run two more miles, three more miles. This is nothing compared to what they have to deal with.
Neither Riddle nor Erin have ever run a marathon before, but both cited different aspects of their 2013 Marathon experience as a reason to run this year.
For Riddle, the key moment in his decision came when the foundation visited Heather Abbott, the woman who had injured her leg, in the hospital. Doctors had been forced to amputate Abbott’s leg from below the knee down, but she was in high spirits when members of the JAF foundation saw her in the hospital.
“I was the first one [into the room] and we all were skittish and nervous,” Riddle said. “She had so much strength and a smile on her face and she went through one of the most difficult things in her life. She just had so much strength and courage, I was like, I’m going to do it.”
For Erin, motivation came both from Abbott and from the message of a church service held the Sunday after the bombings, which emphasized taking advantage of all opportunities to become a better person.
“I literally left church that day, got in the car, and I said to my husband, ‘I have to run the marathon, don’t I?’” Erin said.
Thus began marathon training. Team JAF trains both individually and with a group of charity runners. Riddle and Erin said the runs have at times been highly emotional. For Riddle, who lives in Boston and struggles with anxiety about running down Boylston Street, training runs past Forum have become a must.
“It’s the most emotional thing I’ve ever done,” Riddle said. “When they talk about this runners high and you’ve always poo-pooed it, all the sudden you’re doing 12, 13 miles on your own and you’re in this weird spot and your mind is going. All of a sudden, you’re just crying. You’re crying about Martin Richard, you’re crying about Heather Abbott, you’re crying about the cancer patients who are going through these horrific things and they can’t pay their bills. But then you have these people following you and they’re carrying you.”
Erin and Riddle have quickly learned how marathon training involves more than just long runs. There’s laundry, blisters, miserable moments running through the Boston winter slop and snow, but both have learned how to motivate themselves to keep going. Erin said she continues to draw inspiration from both Abbott’s recovery and JAF cancer patient beneficiaries.
“I think of Heather, number one, all of the strength that she showed going through her recovery process,” Erin said. “She posts [on Facebook], ‘Oh, I got my leg with the high heels’ and now she’s learning how to walk with high-heeled shoes. To see her out doing each thing that she does is amazing, and then there’s the fact that we get to do it for the foundation. I can run one more mile or I can run two more miles, three more miles. This is nothing compared to what they have to deal with.”
But while the road to the finish line of the 118th Boston Marathon has been difficult at times for many members of the foundation, Riddle said he hopes crossing that line on Marathon Monday will stand as the latest example of the foundation’s core philosophy: remaining upbeat in the face of adversity.
“We want to take that upbeat mission that the foundation has and carry it over to the marathon and the events of last year’s marathon,” Riddle said. “We want to have our upbeatness be part of that. We want to take the worst day of last year and make it the best day this year.”
Team JAF has already raised More than $230,000 for cancer patients and their families via its 2014 Marathon fundraising efforts, but Riddle and Erin are all still looking to meet personal fundraising goals. Help each of them reach those goals by visiting each of their fundraising pages: