Marathon Bombing Survivor Showcases Journey Back to Running

“Can’t” is not a word in Jothy Rosenberg’s vocabulary. And when he partnered up with Roseann Sdoia, a Boston-area woman who lost her right leg in the Boston Marathon bombings, “can’t” became a word that motivated them both to run again. Because who says they can’t?

The Who Says I Can’t Foundation, a 501(c) charity started by Rosenberg in early 2013, aims to help those who have become disabled find and succeed at a high challenge activity that brings them joy. Getting back into sports or a physical activity of any kind, Rosenberg believes, can be the key to regaining self-esteem and happiness that might have been lost since a person’s amputation.

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Jothy Rosenberg

Rosenberg, a cancer survivor himself, lost a leg when he was only 16 and 2/5 of his lung at 19. A passionate skier, he coped with his bleak diagnosis by taking to the slopes. When his diagnosis brightened and his survival became more of a reality than a false hope, he took up swimming and biking, as well, finding happiness in the activities.

“I found that using sports was the best and only way I knew to rebuilding self-esteem,” says Rosenberg, explaining the motivation behind starting Who Says I Can’t.

With his rebuilt self-esteem, Rosenberg has practically conquered the world. Obtaining a PhD. and writing four books (all while raising a family), he has silenced anyone who ever said “You can’t” to him. In hopes of helping others to achieve this victory against their own odds, he started the WSICF, not knowing that very shortly after its inception, the Boston Marathon bombings would tragically (and coincidentally) take place.

And that’s where Roseann Sdoia comes in.

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Roseann Sdoia

Sdoia is not a marathon runner, but she watched anxiously as a friend competed in the race that fateful day last April. The day before, she had run her own 5k, not knowing that her life and her “normal” were about to change in an instant.

Nearest to the second of the two bombs, Sdoia’s eardrums blew out upon their explosion and, as a result of the shrapnel that hit her, her right leg was amputated above the knee.

Running was a release for Sdoia, a time to feel free and reflect and, of course, a way to stay in shape that she, like many runners, had a love/hate relationship with. “I would run four or five times a week prior to the bombings, and I would do anywhere from a 5k to the Falmouth Road Race,” she says. “I would talk myself into running, and after I would run I felt great. I did it to make myself feel good and for the exercise and enjoyment of it.”

So when Rosenberg reached out to all of the Marathon victims, Sdoia responded enthusiastically and quickly, hoping to get back to her normal and run once again.

Rosenberg explains that when a limb is amputated, medical insurance will often cover the costs for the majority of walking limbs. Adaptive sports equipment and prosthetics, however, are a different story; amputees often need to shoulder this financial burden themselves if they want to one day return to the sport they loved before their accidents.

Luckily, the WSCIF aims to help shoulder the burden and help people return to normal. The foundation reaches out through NextStep Bionics & Prosthetics, Spaulding Hospital and other organizations to offer people who have lost a limb a way to get back into sports. Luckily for Sdoia, many of the donations to and funding for the WSCIF were made with the intention to help people made disabled by the Marathon bombs, prompting Rosenberg to contact bombing victims.

After the two connected, Rosenberg proposed the idea for a documentary, one to show people the true journey that Sdoia will go through as she learns to run again. A skier, swimmer, and biker but a runner by no means, he agreed to get fitted for a running prosthetic leg himself so that they can learn and grow together.

And just like that, Who Says Roseann Can’t Run was born.

Rosenberg’s goal is for the documentary to show their journey from the initial fitting for their legs until they can run with them comfortably, but with all the struggles and stresses in between, too. Instead of capturing the cliché fairytale ending, Who Says Roseann Can’t Run will be a documentary about a real person overcoming real obstacles, one that will hopefully inspire others wrestling with similar hardships to have hope and to try.

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Roseann’s running leg

So far, Sdoia and Rosenberg’s journey has been challenging for them both, and along the way they have encountered some interesting twists. Recently, Rosenberg learned of a 16-year-old girl named Heaven from Texas. Heaven, a former track star at her high school, lost her leg below the knee in a tractor accident this past summer. Although insurance had paid for her walking leg, without a way to run, the girl who made the varsity track team as a freshman had gone into a self-proclaimed dark place.

The WSICF was able to help Heaven by purchasing her a leg, and she joined in on a recent clinic with Sdoia, Rosenberg and seven other Marathon bombing victims. The clinic was meant to improve particpants’ ability to walk on the new prosthetics and give them an introduction to running. By the end of the day, Heaven was racing around the room where the clinic was held, beaming and grinning for the first time in five long months.

Although the documentary will not focus on Heaven, her story is an important part of Sdoia’s and anyone who has suffered through adjusting to life post-amputation. Where Heaven beat depression, Sdoia beat death and, Rosenberg believes, getting back to sports can help them both to beat the odds and find happiness and fulfillment.

“Sports are an incredibly important vehicle for both of them, as it was for me. It’s getting back into life by getting back into sports,” Rosenberg explains. “You think you’re changed forever, and you are, but you figure out what you need to do to get back into the sport. As they overcome it, their self esteem comes back,” he says with hopes for Sdoia, Heaven and their respective journeys.

Rosenberg and the WSICF hope to continue to help people like Sdoia and Heaven start back down the road to their passions and hobbies, but in order to preserve the Foundation’s resources to make such assistance possible, funding the documentary separately is vital.

Rosenberg has started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the documentary in order to take the financial burden off of the WSICF. The funding and completion of this documentary will not only mean success for Sdoia and her road to recovery and running, but also greater inspiration for those in need to turn to.

Sdoia herself believes that the documentary will be twofold: not only will it be important and rewarding for her to see her own progress, but on another level, in Sdoia’s opinion it will help others to remember that they, too, can succeed. “I want to do it because it’s what I did before. I feel as though I need to do this to get back to whatever normal it was for me,” Sdoia says and then adds “I’m hoping it will give people inspiration to know that they need to try and get out there.”

With a goal of $75,000 and a December 15 deadline, time on the Who Says Roseann Can’t Run Kickstarter is running out and needs generosity now more than ever. To donate to the fund and help support Roseann’s journey, click here. To learn more about the WSICF and Rosenberg’s mission, click here.

When summing up the Who Says I Can’t Foundation’s goals, Rosenberg turns to a quote by Gloria Steinem.

“It’s not that self-esteem is everything. It’s just that there is nothing without it.”