I heard in July 2013, four months after the Boston marathon bombing, that Jeff Bauman wanted to write a book. I knew him from the photograph, of course. I knew he had lost both his legs that day, and that he had helped identify the bombers. I was ready to get on a plane that day and help him if I could.
To my frustration—because I knew the book needed to be out for the anniversary and time was short–it took more than a month for Jeff to decide to meet with me. When we finally met, I realized how selfish that thought was. Jeff wasn’t a “subject,” he was a human being. And he was struggling. He was in intense physical pain and enduring a grueling rehabilitation regimen.
But more importantly, he was struggling psychologically. He didn’t want to be famous, but people whispered and stared. He didn’t want strangers to care about him, but their letters were an inspiration. He didn’t want people to know he was afraid and in pain, but he didn’t want to hide. He hated being called a hero, because he didn’t feel heroic at all. “All I did was get blown up,” he said sadly.
Really, he just wanted his legs back.
We built the story out of that: Jeff’s struggle to understand and accept his new life. Stronger is about the bombing, but it’s not broad or historical. It’s one young man’s experience at the scene (he remembers everything) and the way the bombing impacted his life. The story is raw in parts, as are all my books. You have to be honest, or why bother? As Jeff said: People who read the book may be going through personal tragedies. They may even have lost limbs. To make it seem like losing two legs in front of the entire world isn’t a struggle would be unfair to them. People need to know it’s okay to despair and break down. In fact, it’s inevitable.
Jeff breaks down at one point in this book (I still get teary-eyed when I read it). He hates that, to this day, but he knows it’s part of the process. In the end, because of the setbacks and how he handles them, he succeeds. He becomes the hero the world wants him to be.
Much of that success is because of his personality: generous, funny, thankful. Jeff is hard not to love. But much is also because of the support of Jeff’s family and friends, and especially his fiancée Erin Hurley. Stronger is, above all, a love story. It’s about two young people struggling to adjust to tragedy, while learning what it means to dedicate their lives to each other. In the end, that’s what makes them stronger, together, than either ever thought they’d be.
A moving demonstration of how strength of mind and character helped one man stand tall despite the loss of his legs