On April 15, 2013, aspiring athletic trainer Devin Wang helped save Jeff Bauman’s life after his lower legs were blown off by one of two bombs detonated near the Boston Marathon finish line.
The three years since have been healing for both of them.
Bauman learned to walk with prosthetics, wrote a book that is being made into a movie, married his girlfriend Erin Hurley and became a father.
Wang graduated from Boston University and continued to compete for the Haydenettes synchronized figure skating team, helping to win a world championships bronze medal earlier this month. She recently began working at a branch of Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, the same institution where Bauman and many other bombing survivors were treated.
Yet they didn’t meet until last week, when they unexpectedly found themselves together at the finish line again.
“I think it had to happen that way,” an ebullient Wang said last week on the phone. “Right place, right time. Unscripted, not forced.”
To rewind: Associated Press photographer Charles Krupa’s picture of Wang pushing an ashen-faced Bauman in a wheelchair, accompanied by cowboy-hat wearing civilian Carlos Arredondo and EMT Paul Mitchell, remains perhaps the most enduring image of the heroism that emerged out of the chaos and horror.
Wang, then a 20-year-old BU student who was part of the volunteer medical team at the race, was traumatized both by the experience and the viral, global exposure of the picture itself. She retreated and kept her identity private until she was ready to tell her story several months later.
She has adjusted to her presence in the picture and her part in an event whose repercussions, like the photo itself, are lasting. But she didn’t feel compelled to seek out the man she last saw as he was loaded into an ambulance on Copley Square after a doctor screamed the obvious: “Double amputee!”
Wang has always believed she simply did her duty on race day when she pushed an empty wheelchair toward the blast zone. She has maintained throughout the years that she’s satisfied knowing that Bauman is well and going on with his life. She is self-effacing almost to a fault, and resisted the idea of a staged reunion.
Circumstances conspired to create a spontaneous one instead.
As she did in 2013, Wang was working in the “chutes” — the areas where runners funnel off to either side of Boylston Street after they finish, and where they sometimes stagger with dehydration or exhibit other symptoms that need medical attention.
She had met Arredondo briefly the year after the bombings, and he hailed her from afar on April 18 from the stands where he has become a fixture the past few years.
Wang thought about it and decided she wanted to shake Arredondo’s hand and speak to him. About six hours into the race, as the stream of runners began to dwindle, she gradually made her way toward the finish line, only to be stopped because she didn’t have the proper security credential.
Boston University head athletic trainer Larry Venis, who coordinates that contingent of the medical response team at the marathon, saw what was happening. He personally escorted her to Arredondo, who greeted Wang warmly, then gestured excitedly toward the middle of the course and told her Bauman was there because his wife was about to finish the marathon.
Wang turned around. A tall man in a Red Sox jersey — she would later learn he was Kevin Horst, Bauman’s former manager at Costco and now a close friend — wrapped her in a bear hug. Then she saw Bauman and Hurley a few feet away with their arms around each other.
The moment stunned Wang into temporary stillness. There was so much to take in. Bauman had been at the race three years ago to cheer Hurley on in a race that was cut short. He left Boylston Street with his life visibly draining away and his future a coin flip. Now he was standing before her, and Hurley had finished the race, and Wang was about to understand what completion felt like as well.
Arredondo called out to Bauman. In footage shot by WBZ-TV, Bauman glances at someone off-camera and then at a different spot, his eyebrows leaping with surprise. He does a double take and steps forward. Then Wang walks into the frame and into his arms.
They held each other and cried in the most public place imaginable, yet it was an intimate encounter. The cameras and commentators and spectators focused on Bauman and Hurley, symbols of perseverance: the man who awoke from surgery and helped identify a bombing suspect, the woman who stayed by his side. It was easy to miss the slight figure in a medical volunteer’s jacket with the brim of a ball cap shading half her face. Wang was anonymous again, in plain view.
“Jeff looked at me, and he goes, ‘Oh, my God, thank you so much, thank you, Devin,'” she recalled. When she let go of him to wipe away tears, her hands were still sheathed in purple Latex gloves — the athletic trainer’s garb she hadn’t had time to peel off.
“I barely saw him the first time I met him,” Wang said. “I picked him up on a wheelchair and just ran. So the only image of him I really remember is obviously that photo. I’ve seen pictures of him since the incident, but obviously to stand next to him, look him in the eyes, I don’t know, it’s different. It’s pretty remarkable. He’s come so far.”
Bauman and his wife invited her to their post-race dinner. She hesitated. She called her mother, wondering if she would be intruding. Her mother urged her to go, and Wang is very glad she did.
“I feel a little bit more at ease, I guess,” she said. “Having just met them and walked away from them, I think that would have been hard. Now I have a relationship with them.”
And then Wang said what she has probably known all along, what she has come to terms with and finally embraced:
“I mean, we are gonna be connected for the rest of our lives.”