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Sending a message about life, one step at a time

Robin Tarani to become first amputee to walk the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk

Robin Tarani collected eggs from the chicken coop on her property in Rutland. Tarani has trained daily for the Jimmy Fund Walk, sometimes walking several miles.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Robin Tarani collected eggs from the chicken coop on her property in Rutland. Tarani has trained daily for the Jimmy Fund Walk, sometimes walking several miles.

RUTLAND — Robin Tarani had run some half-marathons and was happily training for the 2012 Boston Marathon. Then in September 2011, as she headed to her job in home health care, Tarani was badly injured when a driver struck her motorcycle.

After two years of surgeries, therapies, and recovery, Tarani is finally poised to do a marathon. On Sunday, she will join 8,500 others at the 25th annual Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk to support cancer care and research.

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She will be the first leg amputee to walk the 26.2-mile route from Hopkinton to Copley Square. With her sister — and a backpack containing a spare prosthetic leg and a tool kit — Tarani hopes she can prove to herself, and to the many recent Boston Marathon amputees, that such goals are achievable and worth fighting for.

“I want people to understand that any goal is attainable if you just work at it,” she said on a recent day in the home she shares with her husband Bob, their sons, ages 23 and 19, and 17-year-old daughter in this rural town in central Massachusetts.

On the 2 acres out back, there’s a chicken coop and vegetable garden, both of them in high production these days.

“I want to show them that there is a life after what they’ve gone through,” Tarani, 50, said of the Marathon amputees. “It’s not easy, but I hope they can gain from me putting my best foot forward.”

Tarani, a frank woman with short frosted hair, is wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and isn’t shy about popping off her prosthesis. Nor does she sugarcoat her handicap.

‘Nothing holds her back. If she has to crawl, she’ll finish. ’

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“It’s very hard,” she said. “People say, ‘You’re going to be great, better than before.’ That’s not true. You just need to find alternative ways to do the things you want to do.”

For her, that means walking — not running — the Marathon route. She has done the Jimmy Fund Walk four times, but that was before the accident. “We booked through it in about six hours,” she said.

But walking with a prosthetic leg and foot is going to be a challenge that Tarani estimates will take 12 hours.

“It depends on the temperature,” she said. “If it’s hot, I’ll have to stop a lot more because my leg will be sweating and I’ll have to readjust the fit and dry it off.”

Even if it’s raining, she plans to walk. “But it will be miserable,” she said.

Her former running partner, Kelly Dalbec, stops by Tarani’s house to drop off some cilantro and describes the months of training the women endured before the accident.

“Nothing holds her back,” said Dalbec. “If she has to crawl, she’ll finish [the walk].”

On Sept. 14, 2011, Tarani was riding her Harley-Davidson 883 to work when she was hit by a woman who failed to stop for a blinking red light at a four-way intersection.

“If it wasn’t for an off-duty cop, I would have bled to death,” said Tarani, who periodically reaches down to rub her “residual,” which is what she calls the part of her left leg, from the knee up, that is her own.

It’s attached to a metal prosthesis that ends in one of the Asics sneakers she has always favored.

Tarani remembers the accident vividly: the excruciating pain, the stranger who applied a tourniquet, the EMT who, in the ambulance, mentioned the word “amputation.”

That night, when she awoke from surgery at UMass Memorial Medical Center, her leg below the knee was gone.

Because of tissue and nerve damage, several more procedures followed. The wound site never fully closed so a year ago, doctors operated again. Three weeks later, Tarani fell, and it had to be resutured.

The prosthesis has caused blisters the size of quarters on her stump, and she fights muscle atrophy. She still has a lot of pain, including phantom pain “like pins and needles.”

“I want to prove I can do it,” she said of the walk, “but it’s killing me.”

In the accident, Tarani also suffered a concussion, a torn rotator cuff, and a shoulder fracture.

Tarani never heard from the woman who hit her, and despite mounting medical bills, never filed a lawsuit.

“So much of my life was taken away, that I just wanted to move forward,” she said.

At the time of the accident, her daughter had just started her freshman year in high school, her son his senior year. Andrew, now a sophomore at Westfield State University, has only seen her “residual” one time.

“He cannot bear to see my lost leg,” she said.

Robin Tarani, who now works part time, takes care of the vegetable garden, the 13 chickens, and the family’s two German shorthaired pointers, Emma and Lily.

As a member of the New England Amputee Association, she visits amputee patients regularly and has met with some of the Marathon victims when they were at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

She and Celeste Corcoran, who lost both of her legs in the blasts, text back and forth on a regular basis, checking in with one another. Tarani said she also keeps in touch with Corcoran’s husband, Kevin, “because I know what my husband went through.”

Tarani saves time for training, walking daily for several miles, sometimes with her sister Cami Carter, 55, an emergency room nurse who will do the walk with her. So far, their longest training session is 14 miles.

“I have no doubt that Robin will finish the walk; I’m just going to plug along next to her,” said Carter, who lives in Milford. “She never sits still. When she had the accident, I knew she wouldn’t let it keep her down. She has moved on with a vengeance.”

Tarani said her husband, Bob, an engineer with Dow Chemical Co., thinks she is putting too much pressure on herself, and she conceded that she’ll be very disappointed if she doesn’t finish.

Ann Beach, director of the Jimmy Fund Walk, said people like Tarani inspire her. “Robin faced adversity, stared it in the eye and said, ‘I will not let this stop me,’ ” said Beach.

“She embodies the determination and hope that permeate the walls of the Dana-Farber and that emanate from those who treat and are treated there.”

The average walker takes eight hours to complete the course, said Beach; the range is six to 10 hours. The pledge walk is expected to raise more than $7 million this year to benefit the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Tarani’s mother, who has battled breast cancer, was recently diagnosed with lymphoma. Her husband’s parents both died of cancer.

“This walk isn’t about me. It’s about the patients at the Dana-Farber fighting for their lives.” She has raised more than $2,000 for the Walk (www.jimmyfundwalk.org).

Much to her family’s dismay, Tarani recently bought a Harley 1200 with a customized gearshift. “I love riding,” said Tarani, who grew up riding minibikes, all-terrain vehicles, and snowmobiles.

Now, as a precaution, she wears a bright yellow shirt and matching yellow helmet.

Bella English can be reached at english@globe.com.
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