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Survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing gathered for a solemn wreath laying ceremony this morning to mark five years since bombs planted near the finish line killed three and injured hundreds. One of those attending was Roseann Sdoia, who lost her right leg in the blast. As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, she was at the ceremony with her husband, whom she met in the chaos of that day.
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Fifty-year-old Roseann Sdoia will be the first to tell you she's always been fiercely independent - and now all the more so.
ROSEANN SDOIA: This is the tricky part.
SMITH: The stairs.
SDOIA: Yeah. OK, we're good.
SMITH: Swinging her prosthetic leg up a step on her way into a speaking gig, Sdoia lugs a big heavy box.
Let me take a side.
SDOIA: No, it's good. It's good. I guess it makes me feel normal. It's something that I would have done before, so anything that can kind of make me feel like I'm not handicapped.
SMITH: Sdoia says it's still hard to accept how her annual outing to watch the race changed her life.
SDOIA: I still wake up in the morning five years later and go, oh, my God, I don't have a leg. Even though I live it every day, I still have a hard time really thinking to myself what really happened.
SMITH: It helps, Sdoia says, to keep telling her story, as she's doing this day as an inspirational speaker, addressing hundreds of bank employees.
SDOIA: As I turned, I saw two flashes of white light, and then everything went blank.
SMITH: These tellers and branch managers may face challenges quite unlike learning to walk again, but Sdoia says the lessons of resilience and resolve are universal.
SDOIA: And this is how I chose to stay positive because I wasn't going to get better in any other way.
SMITH: It's all about choices, Sdoia says, just as it was for the two bombers who chose to kill and maim that day and for the countless others who chose to run into harm's way to save lives. As Sdoia recounts in her book "Perfect Strangers," one of the many who helped her was a firefighter who got her into a police truck, held her hand all the way to the hospital and then came back to check on her daily.
SDOIA: He's now my husband.
MIKE MATERIA: Aw, stop.
SDOIA: I love when he smiles.
MATERIA: All right.
SMITH: At home, Mike Materia cringes at being in the spotlight, especially since the guys at the firehouse can be merciless.
SDOIA: He gets embarrassed easily. It's very shy.
MATERIA: Yeah, it's true.
SMITH: But everyone saw something in Materia, even from those first days in the hospital when Sdoia's mom kept nudging her about that cute fireman.
SDOIA: I'm like seriously, you're trying to fix me up? I was just blown up.
SMITH: Five years after the blasts and about five months into their marriage, they're still trying to get their heads around how things can so suddenly flip from good to bad and bad to good. Sdoia still has her moments, she says, but she surprised even herself with how she's coped.
SDOIA: If someone had told me that this is what was going to happen to me, I would have said, I don't want to live like that. But you don't know until you're there. And I'm doing OK.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your story. Can you sign my book...
SDOIA: Aw, thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: It's really inspirational.
SDOIA: Thank you.
SMITH: At the bank event, dozens line up to buy Sdoia's book.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Can you make it out to Edward?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: That's my husband. He was catastrophically injured, so I'm sure your story will help him.
SDOIA: This is why I do it. As long as one person comes up to me and says, what you've said has helped me, it's kind of my drive now.
SMITH: She wants to pay forward, Sdoia says, what those perfect strangers gave her, especially the one she calls her fireman. Tomorrow, she'll be back at the marathon finish line, this time supporting him. He's running the 26.2 miles to raise money for a charity set up in the name of a fellow firefighter who was killed in the line of duty. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.
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