Major strides made by Forum Restaurant and one of its employees
(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.)
Erinn Fleming used to work out. She had a personal trainer she’d see, and they had a workout plan they’d follow and it was fine. It was part of her routine, infused with no more meaning than the morning shower or the commute from her home near Plymouth, Mass., into Boston, where she is a manager at Forum restaurant.
When it came to running, Fleming was more of a spectator. Maybe a couple times a week she’d hoof out a mile or so, but her strongest relationship with running had to do with the Boston Marathon, which finished on Boylston Street, about 200 yards from the front door of Forum.
The Boston Marathon is a big day for bars and restaurants on Boylston Street, and Fleming was working last April 15.
“It was as normal as any Marathon Monday would be for any restaurant on Boylston Street,” she said. “We knew it would be a really busy day. We knew the crowds would be out front.”
In addition to the regular traffic, Forum was hosting a watch party for a team running for the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, which raises money for families affected by cancer.
“As director of events and marketing, that was one of my main areas to focus on,” Fleming said. “It was really business as usual, right up until everything happened.”
The bomb goes off and its chaos. Nobody knows what happened. Nobody knows if it’s a bomb. Everybody just knows they want to get out of there. Fleming remembers people moving toward the back, trying to get away from the windows.
That was after the first explosion.
The second bomb – a homemade job filled with shrapnel and placed by terrorists — exploded on the patio at Forum. In an instant, there’s blood all over, and flesh, the blast having sent ball bearings in every direction. Later, they’d pick them out of the structure of the restaurant itself, but now it was a matter of tending to the wounded and getting the unhurt out the back door.
Forum staff rushed to the front, tying off wounds with their belts and anything else available. Fleming remembers running out with towels and tablecloths. Pure adrenaline.
“I never did feel that fear,” she said.
There is a fire exit in the back that leads into an alley, and getting people out there was Fleming’s next task. Guests first, then staff. She just … did it.
“I really didn’t have time to think,” she said. “I just knew we had a restaurant full of guests. As someone who works here, it was kind of up to me, I felt like, to help them get out and get them to safety.”
It had all happened so fast that by the time Fleming had a chance to breathe, word hadn’t really gotten out yet. She tried to text her husband to let him know she was OK, but pushed the wrong button and was surprised when he answered.
“I’m OK,” she told him.
“What are you talking about?” he said.
It would be four months before the damaged Forum re-opened. There was a lot that needed repaired, including the psyches of the staff on hand that day. It was scary, the bomb, the manhunt, going back to work.
One day, Fleming was working out with her trainer, and something about the exertion pushed something from deep in her gut straight through her mouth and up her esophagus and out her mouth.
“I’m going to run that marathon,” she said.
Just like that. That was it. She says there is no way she would have wanted to run a marathon had last Marathon Monday been like any other.
“I think that, maybe subconsciously, was a way of saying, ‘I’m not going to be afraid, I’m not going to feel like I don’t have control, I’m not going to let someone or something try to take away this amazing event,’” Fleming said. “I think that proclamation, for me, a lot was really behind it that at the time I wasn’t thinking about. But somewhere in my mind, it was there.”
She’d be starting from scratch. Fleming ran her first 5k in June, and felt good about that. But then a 5k turned into six or eight miles by September and 10 by October … a long way from 26.2.
Then, she had a moment. In training, she would run the Boston Marathon course in reverse, and the day she made it to 14.5 miles for the first time, she had a breakthrough.
“Once we got to the top of Heartbreak Hill, we passed Heartbreak Hill Running Company, got up to the top of the hill and we could see down into BC,” she said. “That feeling, honestly, was unlike any other. I just remember thinking, ‘So this is what this feels like.’”
Fleming was so impressed with the Andruzzi Foundation last year that she’s joined the cause for this year’s marathon.
She doesn’t have a goal in mind for time. That’s never what this has been about. This is to prove something.
To keep going.
“I’m not thinking about time,” she said. “I’m just thinking about finishing.”