Jeff Bauman, his legs gone and his life draining away on the smoke-filled sidewalk on Boylston Street, says the 15 seconds between the two Boston Marathon explosions in 2013 felt like five minutes.
“One of the first things I thought of looking down, laying there on the ground, I was like, I’m not going to be able to run, or bike, I’m not going to be able to skate,” he says. “And I was, like, really heartbroken about that.”
Then the second bomb went off.
“And I’m looking up in the sky thinking we’re getting bombed or something. And then I was like, ‘Oh man, I’m probably going to die here.’ ”
Fast-forward 10 years.
Bauman fires in his second goal in a recent New England Sled Hockey tournament game. His teammates love their cocaptain. The opposing team loves him, too.
”He’s come a long way,” says John “Hollywood” Mcardle of the Central Vermont Pioneers, who play in the Northeast Sled Hockey League. “When he lost his legs, he had a hard time. He got frustrated. Now he’s just a phenomenal player.”
Bauman is the leading scorer on the Spaulding Boston Shamrocks team, which also plays in the NESHL. They won the 2022 USA Hockey National Tier V championship with Bauman at center and fellow Marathon bombing survivor Marc Fucarile in goal. In the NESHL, Bauman led the Atlantic Division in goals and points.
“I played hockey growing up since I was basically 3,” he says. “I was skating on ponds in Chelmsford. I played in pickup games. I loved to skate.”
Now he uses two short hockey sticks with picks on the bottom to propel himself on the ice.
“Being on the ice is fast,” he says. “It’s cold on your face, and I thought that I would never feel that again. Everyone is equal and we are all having fun.”
Being a face of Boston Strong hasn’t been easy. Neither is reliving that horrible day.
Bauman remembers encountering bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
“When he bumped into me in the crowd, we just looked at each other,” says Bauman. “I was like, where are you going? The crowd was so dense, and he was, like, just a weird, awkward person. Then it hit me . . . he put that bag down. This is not good. By then, it was too late.”
There was a famous Associated Press photo published around the world of Bauman being rushed in a wheelchair to an ambulance. Bauman identified Tamerlan Tsarnaev for the FBI.
Bauman, 38, co-wrote a bestselling book, “Stronger,” which was made into a movie. He threw out a ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park — a strike — after getting some tips from his idol, Pedro Martinez. Bruins fans watched him progress from a wheelchair to walking with prosthetics. He married the woman he was rooting for that day at the finish line. They had a beautiful, healthy daughter, and maintain a great relationship following their divorce.
“We are on excellent terms,” he says. “We just try to be the best and we just co-parent very well.”
‘It’s always there’
After the bombings and the divorce, Bauman was depressed.
“The only time I would put my legs on was to go out with my friends and go to the bar and drink,” he says. “And I realized after my divorce, I was like, ‘I’m going to die.’ ”
He has stopped drinking for six years. He graduated from UMass Lowell in 2020 with a degree in psychology and legal studies, and then went to law school for a year and a half.
The tragedy still haunts him.
“It’s always there,” he says. “And certain smells, even now, I’ll smell, like, burning rubber or, like, fireworks. And it’s like, ‘Oh, I know that smell.’ I do a great job at kind of like shutting it down and moving past it.”
His sled hockey coach, Elizabeth Dahlen, says Bauman is a team leader as well as being an assistant league commissioner.
“He’s passionate about the game,” she says. “He wants to grow the sport.”
He also can be chippy on the ice.
“Yeah, it’s weird,” he says. “If I need to turn it on, I turn it on. I just let go. Mainly just to keep my speed up and to stay in the play. I flip that switch to where I get mad.”
He does not use the bombers as motivation.
“No, no, I don’t get mad at them,” he says. “One of them sits in a three-by-three cell. I mean, I’m pissed that he gets visitors and he gets to have his lawyers in that file court cases in the Colorado District Court. But I guess he’s got his due process, right?
“But I was really happy to know that he ran his brother over and the cop shot him seven times. The older one, the one I saw, I was really happy about that. I’m not going to lie. I think the whole city felt that.”
Dr. David Crandell, the amputee program director at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, had been trying to get Bauman on the ice since 2013.
“I kind of kick myself now that I didn’t start adaptive sports right during my recovery,” says Bauman. “I was kind of like stubborn about it because I was just learning how to walk again on my prosthetics.
“It was tough to even stand at first for 10 seconds. It would hurt so bad.”
Taken with a new game
Bauman’s hockey rebirth happened in 2019. His brother, Alan Bauman, who is from New Hampshire and a member of the Air National Guard, was playing in the Heroes Cup in Marlborough. He saw a sled hockey game on another rink.
“He said, ‘You’ve got to come see this. It’s wild,’ ” says Jeff Bauman.
When Bauman arrived, he was immediately recognized and introduced as a Boston Marathon bombing survivor by the announcer.
The Spaulding team insisted he play.
“I’m like, ‘Oh man, I don’t want to,’ ” says Bauman. “It was, like, crazy. Two minutes later, I was out on the ice, there were people whizzing past me at full speed, and it’s full contact, it’s big hits, but no one lit me up.
“It was my first time in a sled. I was so slow and it was such a fast game. But I caught up to speed pretty well and I knew the game enough to be in position. And after that, I was like, ‘I’m in, I’m in.’ ”
Dr. Crandell, who calls Bauman the Brad Marchand of the Shamrocks, says sled hockey is more difficult than regular hockey but is just as entertaining.
“It’s not watered down,” says Crandell. “Obviously, you have to get up and down the ice differently, and you have the ability to shoot and pass with two sticks, but it’s real hockey, and that’s why people enjoy it, and so that’s why it’s also fun to watch, too.”
Bauman says he is in the best shape of his life. He went cross-country skiing this winter and now handcycles around Andover, accompanied by his 8-year-old daughter, Nora, on her scooter or bike.
“As soon as I get out on the street, my life is instantly better,” he says, “because I’m outside and riding, and it’s stuff I didn’t really grasp right away. I was stuck in my own head and my injury and poor me, I’m going to have to be like this my whole life. But it’s not that. It’s a huge advantage to just get out there.”
On the ice this night at Amelia Park Arena in Westfield, Bauman is a dynamo. He steps in front of an opposing shot and gets a big welt on his arm. His two goals are not enough in a 5-2 loss to the bigger Central Vermont Pioneers.
After the game, Bauman is exhausted. The locker room, filled with Iraqi war veterans, Bronze Star recipients, and a bone-deficiency survivor, is tranquil.
“Here we’re all happy,” he says. “Everyone out here is a warrior. We all hit, we all play hard. It’s a great sport.”
Bauman can see himself coaching in the future.
“That would be awesome,” he says. “A disabled sports team or even a regular team. Who knows?
“My girlfriend is always sending me jobs. She’s like, ‘Look, Worcester needs a girls’ hockey coach. You could totally coach girls’ hockey. You could coach anything.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, maybe.’
“But I definitely want to play a couple more years of competitive hockey. It’s just all about keeping moving. If you don’t move, you’re done.”
Read more about the Boston Marathon
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.