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As we just heard, this year's Boston Marathon is taking place in less than a week, and more than 36,000 runners hope to cross the finish line. Carol Downing expects to be among them. Downing is from Maryland and had just half a mile to go last year when the two bombs exploded. One of her daughters was waiting for a glimpse of her mother and was seriously injured in the blast.

From member station WBUR, reporter Martha Bebinger brings us the story of this mother and daughter as they get ready to return to Boston.

MARTHA BEBINGER, BYLINE: Carol Downing isn't sure she's ready to run the Boston Marathon again this year.

CAROL DOWNING: I've kind of lost my motivation a little bit and I don't know whether it's just because my training's a little off right now or I mean, there's definitely some fear of going back. You know, I know that for the whole time of the 26.2 miles I'm going to be wondering whether my family's safe.

BEBINGER: This tension is building for hundreds of thousands of runners, spectators, police officers, firefighters and medical team members who saw the horror of the bombings or their aftermath. Downing knows that backpacks, like the ones that contained the two bombs, are discouraged and subject to search this year, and that many other new security measures will be in place. She's still afraid.

DOWNING: I mean, how do keep a whole city safe?

BEBINGER: How could she not worry? Downing's daughter Erika Brannock spent 50 days in a Boston hospital. Doctors amputated her left leg above the knee. When Brannock checked out of and flew back to Baltimore last June, she wasn't even sure she'd be able to keep her other leg.

ERIKA BRANNOCK: Let's see. On the 5th, February 5, I had my 18th surgery since Boston.

BEBINGER: Now, after months of progress and setbacks, Brannock is taking small steps with her prosthetic left and rebuilt right leg.

BRANNOCK: It's looking good. My surgeon's really happy with how it's healed, and I can start getting back up and walking again.

BEBINGER: Brannock still needs surgery to repair her right eardrum. There will be another operation to smooth the landscape of shrapnel scars on her right leg. And then, the bone at the end of her amputation is growing.

BRANNOCK: There have been a couple of amputees that have had to have their limb shaved off so that it's not poking through and they've had issues with it. So far, mine's been good.

BEBINGER: Brannock has dark days. But Downing, her mom, says her daughter has become a symbol of resilience.

DOWNING: When Erika and I, when we first got home, it was kind of crazy. We just couldn't go out in public without people stopping her and telling people what an inspiration she was, and, you know, just hugging and kissing and...

BEBINGER: Brannock says she tries to set a good example for these strangers, for her friends and for the little boys and girls she hopes to teach full time once she finishes a master's in early childhood education.

BRANNOCK: If I'm going through this and I'm not smiling and whatnot, I guess it's just not my personality that I'm not a woe-is-me kind of person.

BEBINGER: But Brannock acknowledges she does require a lot of attention.

BRANNOCK: I didn't get the nickname of princess for nothing.

BEBINGER: And the person who is at her bidding every day is her mom. Brannock moved in with her mother and stepdad after the bombing.

BRANNOCK: She's been a really great support to have there. You know, even before all of this, it was - she was one of my best friends, and she still is.

BEBINGER: Brannock plans to watch her mother complete the marathon this year. Downing has crossed the finish line once. She did it last spring while Brannock and her sister, Nicole Gross, who was also injured in the blast, were still in the hospital.

DOWNING: One morning I was out running along the Charles River, and I just said today's the day and I turned around and I went back to the exact spot where I remember being stopped and just ran it like it was a race.

BEBINGER: Down a busy commercial street, ignoring traffic and the sounds of the city.

DOWNING: I just remember the closer I got to the finish line, just imagining what my kids had gone through and I hadn't been there.

BEBINGER: Memories of that terrifying experience are mixed now with gratitude for the people who saved her Brannock's life and excitement about reuniting with other survivors in Boston. It's a city Brannock and Downing call their home away from home because, they say, the love of many over powered the hatred of a few.

For NPR News, I'm Martha Bebinger in Boston.

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