By Seth Daniel
Wherever two or more runners come together, in Boston, a Marathon is likely to be run, and this year one Charlestown woman and her sister – a survivor of the 2013 Marathon Bombing – will celebrate a special bond in running the Boston Marathon together for the first time to help the hospital that came to their aid on one of the most traumatic days of their lives.
Ilana Cohen, 27, of Albion Place, and her sister, Jaymi Cohen, of Cambridge, will run the Boston Marathon for the first time together to benefit Mass General Hospital on Marathon Monday, April 18. It will, in many ways, act as the climax of a recovery that has been every bit as challenging emotionally as it has been physically.
“It’s been really great to train together,” said Ilana, who noted this will be the fourth year she has run since the Bombing, but the first year with her sister beside her. “We have both gone on the same long runs during the weekends. We have a Marathon coach provided by MGH and he has a store in Newton, so every Saturday we run to his store. We also go to a Spin class or treadmill class a few times a week together. It’s made it so much fun to have each other and knowing we’re both going through the same workout.”
Said Jaymi, “This is a way to use our athletic ability and we’re doing it for something that’s greater than ourselves and we’re also giving back to the place that helped us so much.”
The two sisters explained that on 2013, Jaymi was standing at the finish line in front of the Forum Restaurant with several members of her Tufts University Lacrosse team. Suddenly, she heard the booming of one of the pressure cooker bombs go off near her.
But after a few steps, she couldn’t run that well and realized she had been hit by dozens of small projectiles. In the end, she had been hit by about 50 BB-like pieces of shrapnel the size of a dime, all up and down her legs.
She said the treatment she and her family received – medically, emotionally and in counsel – opened her eyes to the kind of amazing work MGH does every day, but work she had never contemplated until the day of the Marathon Bombing when it became critical to her life and well being.
“I was pretty freaked out while I was on the scene and waiting for the ambulance and even on the trip over to Mass General,” Jaymi, 23, said. “Once there, though, I was in the pediatric unit and isolated from everyone – especially the news and media. I didn’t know what happened at all. If wasn’t until we left the hospital that we found out what happened. To be sheltered from the outside while I was at the hospital was so important so I could get care and recovery and not get bombarded while I was being treated. Even when the FBI came to ask me questions about it, MGH provided someone for me to advise me so I didn’t feel pressured to answer questions.”
Said Ilana, “It was pretty incredible to see all the doctors and nurses that were keeping everyone calm on a very crazy day. Being able to get in and see Jaymi as quickly as we did was incredible too for our family. Seeing them still reach out to her three or four years later – it’s pretty great to see these connection that still continue to this day.”
Jaymi said she still stays in contact with Dr. Mindy Sherman and Dr. Sylvia Romm, a resident at the time, as they treated her and carefully removed all of the shrapnel – likely allowing her to be as active as she is today.
Much of the recovery, the two sisters said, is about emotional recovery from the trauma of being injured and seeing others injured. Despite the trauma that was associated with the race and the location of the Forum, both said they make a special effort to run down Boylston Street to confront what happened and not let it control them.
“I had more mental and emotional injuries than physical one compared to other people,” she said. “I would say recovery is a process and I’m in a much better place now than a year out from when it happened. Everyone has a different way of coping with what happened. I wanted to get back out there. I can’t avoid thinking about what happened. I can’t avoid being where the Forum was at. To train for the Marathon and run down Boylston Street whenever I can was helpful; going back running the Marathon is also helpful.”
Lana said it was a no-brainer to run the Marathon the year after, in 2014, despite never having run one before. The former University of New Hampshire lacrosse player was up to the task, and said she didn’t have trouble choosing MGH as her charity. The three years running alone were very good, but she said nothing will compare to running with her sister and crossing the Finish Line together.
“It’s been very inspiring for me to see her fully recovered, back in graduate school and also training for the Marathon with me as well,” said Ilana. “It’s very motivating for me to run my fourth Marathon, but this one will be different to any of the others I’ve run in the past because she’ll be there beside me.”
Jaymi said running with her sister on April 18 will make it a fully shared experience and a way for the whole family to thank MGH.
“I feel like I’m not just running for my recovery, but for everyone else’s too,” she said. “Being able to do that with Ilana has taken a lot of weight off my shoulders because we can share it and go through it together.”