Health & Fitness

Boston Marathon bombing survivor to speak at Modesto sports medicine event

Rebekah Gregory, a Boston Marathon bombing survivor, will speak at a sports medicine symposium Monday in Modesto.
Rebekah Gregory, a Boston Marathon bombing survivor, will speak at a sports medicine symposium Monday in Modesto. Brian Braun/Premiere Speakers Bureau

Rebekah Gregory survived the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, giving her a platform for inspiring others and encouraging people to better themselves through life’s struggles.

Gregory, who lost a leg in the bombing, is the keynote speaker for a sports medicine symposium Monday hosted by Doctors Medical Center in the DoubleTree Hotel grand ballroom in Modesto.

She and her then-5-year-old son were standing near the finish line April 15, 2013, watching a friend run the race. Her son, Noah, had sat down with his back to her feet shortly before the first bomb went off a few feet behind them.

The back of her legs and body took most of the blast, but her son was mostly shielded. The explosion temporarily disabled her eardrums and she could not hear the screams of people as they laid among the bodies and body parts, she said.

In the next several months, Gregory had numerous surgeries that attempted to save her left leg and finally she chose to have it amputated. Her son, who was treated for a deep cut to one leg, was left with a bald patch from shrapnel that grazed the back of his head.

Gregory is reminded of the bombings every day when she puts on her prosthetic. She has post-traumatic stress disorder and deals with a constant fear that someone is trying to harm her and members of her family, she said. Parades can give her a panic attack, as the procession and smell of fireworks remind her of the bombing.

“Large crowds are difficult,” she says.

Today, Gregory inspires others by speaking about her story and daily obstacles. She was not a runner before the Boston bombings, which foreshadowed more recent terrorist attacks on domestic soil, but she was running up to 16 miles on a prosthetic blade in her determination to enter the 2015 Boston marathon.

Doctors urged Gregory to skip the marathon when the end of the leg became raw and broke open. In a personal victory, she opted to run the last 3 miles of the course last year.

Also described as a small-town mom with simple values, the Kentucky native is working on a memoir and enjoying life with her husband and a 10-week-old daughter, Ryleigh.

Gregory has a lot of personal experience with sports medicine, having worked for three years with physical therapists and other health professionals who taught her to function with the disability. “It was just as much emotional as physical,” she says. “There were so many people who told me to keep going.”

At the free symposium Monday, physicians and other speakers will discuss the latest in sports medicine, including management of concussions, sports and cardiology, preventive treatment for heat exhaustion, sports nutrition, and taping and bracing.

Doctors Medical Center has taken a larger role with high school athletics in hosting an inaugural sports medicine event last year. Affiliated doctors provide sideline coverage at local football games and hold Friday night clinics for students injured in games. Doctors also is offering pre-participation health screenings this week for high school athletes in Modesto City Schools.

Tiffani Burns, a hospital spokeswoman, said the four-hour symposium will offer valuable insights for anyone who coaches athletics, from cheerleading to football. Coaches, athletic directors, student athletic volunteers and anyone else with a yen for sports medicine are welcome to attend.

Reservations are required.

The Boston bombings were carried out by brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, ethnic Chechens who killed three people and injured more than 260. Tamerlan Tsarnaev suffered fatal wounds in a shootout with police, and a huge manhunt ended with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s arrest.

Gregory, one of 17 amputees who survived, testified at Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial and sat 5 feet away from him in the courtroom, she said. Her heart aches for victims of the more deadly terrorist attacks in San Bernardino; Orlando, Fla.; and elsewhere in the world.

She said she tries not to think about the Boston bombers today.

“It is sad that people have that much hatred in their hearts,” Gregory said. “I am sad for them but don’t waste my time being angry. I am trying to move past Boston and live as much of a normal life as I can.”

The sports medicine symposium is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday in the DoubleTree Hotel ballroom, 1150 Ninth St., Modesto. Check in from 8 to 8:45 a.m. Reservations are required. For more information or to RSVP, call 855-327-2225 or email sabrina.high@tenethealth.com.

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16

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