Why they'll run

Athletic trainer Adrian Wright-FitzGerald, running for victims

The day was running so smoothly. Adrian Wright-FitzGerald wasn't sure what to expect when she volunteered to work the "A" medical tent at the marathon finish line, and while there was a steady stream of patients for lower body injuries, blisters, cramping and mild hypothermia, for the most part, it was an easy, manageable, inspiring day.

"I was having a really good time,'' said Wright-FitzGerald, who is a certified athletic trainer.

Just before 3 p.m., as she knelt down to assist a runner, she felt the ground shake.

One physician surmised it was a truck collision; another claimed a major thunderstorm was coming.

"And then, all of a sudden, the atmosphere changed,'' said Wright-FitzGerald.

In a matter of moments, there were screams, sirens, anguished cries of pain. The medical personnel were simply told there was an "incident" with casualties.

"No one mentioned the word 'bomb,''' she said.

The tent suddenly resembled a war zone; a bloodied police officer in a wheelchair, spectators on stretchers, some with their limbs severed, victims with seared flesh and burning clothes.

"It just kept getting worse and worse,'' Wright-FitzGerald said.

In theory, Wright-FitzGerald had been trained how to stop bleeding, cover a wound and apply a tourniquet, but in her capacity as an athletic trainer at Bentley University, she had never been asked to administer any of these techniques.

Now she was treating flesh wounds from shrapnel, patients in shock who were losing large quantities of blood, victims whose limbs were partially blown off.

There weren't enough medical gauze pads to handle the demand, so the staff quickly turned to makeshift tourniquets made from T-shirts and towels.

There was little time to consider what was happening. When Wright-FitzGerald finally did, she felt a knot growing in her stomach.

"I remember wondering, 'Why is this happening?''' she said. "It was such a dramatic swing from the patients we had been treating all day, who had minor injuries but were so happy to have finished the race. "In an instant we went from that to fear and terror, treating spectators instead of runners, tearing burning clothes off people's bodies.''

Wright-FitzGerald continues to be amazed by the poise of the medical staff, who remained organized and calm and even after one of the victims who had already perished was wheeled into their tent.

"They are an amazing group of professionals,'' she said.

When the wounded were finally transported elsewhere, Wright-Fitzgerald rummaged for her phone and discovered she had received over 100 text messages.

The police ordered an evacuation of Tent A -- it was now officially a crime scene -- and Adrian wandered into the street, unsure what to do next. She went back to work the next day, incorrectly assuming a return to routine would be helpful.

"I was a zombie all week,'' she said. "I couldn't focus. I didn't have the desire to do anything.''

She received counseling from Bentley's mental health officials, but then a manhunt for one of the bombing suspects centered on Watertown, where she was living, and the lockdown triggered the sirens and the smell of burning flesh all over again.

It has been a long year for Adrian Wright-Fitzgerald. She wishes she had done more to help the survivors. She wishes she could forget what she saw.

"It's been really hard in ways I didn't expect it to be,'' she admitted.

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