ASBURY, Iowa — On April 15, 2013, Rebekah Gregory was waiting near the finish line during the Boston Marathon when a bomb went off three feet behind her.
The blast left her seriously wounded, and she would eventually lose one of her legs as a result of her injuries.
But looking back six years later, Gregory sees that the experience gave her a second chance at life.
“Life is hard,” she told about 100 people at The Meadows Golf Club on Wednesday. “When it’s hard, you have these decisions. You have to decide: Are you going to count your blessings, or are you going to count your problems?”
Gregory shared her story of surviving the terrorist attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260 and the ways that the experience shaped her during the Women’s Leadership Network’s Annual Connect Experience. During her talk, she encouraged attendees to have hope that they can face the struggles they encounter in their own lives.
“The majority of people are not going to get blown up by a bomb at a marathon … but every single person has life blow up in their face,” Gregory said. She added, “You have to try and pick up the pieces and figure out how in the world do we go on from there.”
A shift in perspectiveIn 2013, Gregory made the trek from Texas to Massachusetts to watch a friend run in the marathon.
As she and her young son, Noah, made their way to the finish line, the boy started to complain that he was bored. Gregory sat him down on her feet, so he could play with some rocks to distract himself.
That was when a bomb concealed in a backpack nearby exploded.
Gregory found herself on the ground in a pool of her own blood, her left leg feeling like it was on fire. Because her legs took the brunt of the blow, Noah sustained only minor physical injuries.
Gregory was rushed to the hospital and spent five days in a medically induced coma. When she woke up, doctors told her that they weren’t sure they could save her legs or one of her hands.
Just as Gregory started to feel sorry for herself, Noah came to visit her.
He told Gregory, “Don’t worry, Mom. We got this.”
That was when Gregory knew she could go on after her injuries.
“He was giving me the strength to say, ‘Yes, we do,’” she said.
Gregory said that before the bombing, she had spent her life trying to be successful. In many ways, she was going through the motions, exhausted and working too much.
“I was placing these trivial things in life above things that actually mattered, and it wasn’t until I was blown up by a bomb in Boston … that I realized how wrong my priorities and my perspective truly was,” she said.
Next chapterGregory spent the next year and a half confined to either a wheelchair or a bed as doctors tried to save her injured limbs
Eventually, Gregory realized it was time to let doctors amputate one of her legs. She made up her mind to do all the things with one leg that she had not done with two.
“My life does not look anything like it used to, but that is such a blessing in itself because now I had a second chance,” she said.
In the months that followed, Gregory pushed her self to learn to walk again and then to run. In 2015, she ran the last 3.2 miles of the Boston Marathon.
“When I crossed that line, I really did feel like I’d opened up a new chapter,” she said.
Gregory still has difficult moments. There are times when she gets tired of people staring at her prosthetic or when she is exhausted.
She told attendees it is OK to have those moments, but that they can keep them in perspective.
“If we always come back to that fact that we are alive for a reason, that today we got up for a reason, that we have fresh air in our lungs, then there’s always going to be that purpose,” Gregory said.
Miranda Heiar, special events chairwoman for the Women’s Leadership Network, said Gregory’s message helped show that while everyone has their own obstacles, what matters is what they do with them and how they use them to make a difference.
It also reinforces the importance of supporting one another.
“As humans, we’re always quick to judge someone, and it’s a good reminder that we’re always here to support each other,” she said.
Lindsay McElmeel, who attended the event, said Gregory’s talk was inspiring.
“She has a really positive outlook out of a really negative situation, and it helps you put your own life into perspective,” she said.