For Nicole Gross walking down stairs without holding on to the rail was a milestone. The first time she stood on her tippy toes to reach something high, her husband Michael took a picture of the big moment.
"Knowing what I was doing before, it's hard not compare and be discouraged," says Gross, a former elite triathlete, personal trainer and Division I swimmer at Tennessee. "I had to remind myself what this all means and appreciate the new perspective."
Last year the Gross's, along with Nicole's sister, Erika Brannock, had traveled to Boston to cheer on their mother, Carol Downing in her first Boston Marathon. They were standing near the finish line when the first bomb went off.
Erika lost her left leg and her right leg was severely injured. Nicole suffered severe injuries to both legs and feet. In the past year, she's had 10 surgeries, including one to repair a hole in her ear drum and 20 staples in her abdomen. If not for her level of fitness, Nicole may have lost a leg, her doctors said. Michael avoided serious injury, but at the time he was still recovering from major back surgery.
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A year after those horrors, the family will be back at the finish line when their mother competes in Monday's marathon. But first, Nicole Gross will walk the 5K race on Saturday.
"I'm going to be at the back of the line at races and that's fine by me," Gross says. "I don't mind having that change because the person I was before was very type A, very focused, with blinders on. Now I'm opening them to see the world in a different way. It's been good for me both emotionally and physically."
Survivors thrust in the spotlight are more than just what happened on April 15, 2013. Their story is also about what they hope to be, in part because of that tragedy.
"Where do we go from here? What sense can we make from all this," she says, sipping some coffee not far from where all of it happened.
"We want to give back, help those injured, building on our experiences," says Michael, who also worked in the fitness industry and also swam at Tennessee.
Michael and Nicole Gross have big dreams. They want to combine their passion for fitness with recovery and build a center in Charlotte that bridges the gap between physical therapy and exercise, a new model for helping people heal that provides a community of support.
On Saturday, Nicole Gross will cross a finish line, but in many ways it will also be a start.
"It's been the slowest year, but it also feels like it's been a month ago since it's happened because it doesn't go away," Gross says. "You live it, you remember it every day but being here will help bring closure, walking near where we were standing."
The couple is staying in a hotel on Boylston Street that overlooks the finish line. "It's a bit surreal, taking it all in, if I get overwhelmed just get back inside and hibernate a little bit," she says. "Being at the finish line was very emotional, but I've got to do it. I want to be around as many finish lines as possible. That's what my job was – training runners for races. I can't be scared of them; I want to be around a lot of them."
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