with Adrianne Haslet
Words by Lou Serafini
Photography by Molly Malone
Adrianne Haslet and I have known each other from some Boston community events in years past but she’s someone I haven’t gotten the chance to connect with during the pandemic (until now). She is a Boston Marathon bombing survivor, a para-athlete, and a global advocate for amputee rights. Aside from all of that, she’s a local running legend in my book. I was really excited to catch up with her and learn more about what she’s up to and more importantly what she’s looking forward to. There is so much positivity in this interview and I can’t help but smile when I read it. I hope you enjoy.
LS: How are you feeling about the first-ever fall Boston Marathon on October 11th?
AH: I’m so pumped! I really didn’t know if it would happen. I have been so grateful over the years to get to know the Boston Athletic Association and DMSE Sports really well. I sat in on some of the safety meetings before the race, and let me tell you, the eight towns the marathon passes through, state and local officials, and thousands of volunteers stop at nothing to keep all of us safe and healthy out there. It has always bothered me to hear runners complain about how expensive the Boston Marathon entry fee is. I think if people actually took the time to think of what goes into a race of this caliber, they would be a bit more grateful. I’m confident that not only will it be a once-in-a-lifetime moment for Boston, but globally. Everyone will be watching Boston rise up from the ashes once again, and run with a battle cry that will echo for years to come. October means it will be fall in New England, and the leaves will be showing off in all their glory. To say that day will be the best gift this city can give to all of us, is an understatement!
LS: What are you most excited about in 2021?
AH: I’m most excited for hugs! I know that sounds simple but my goodness I miss hugging all of my people and traveling. My family is spread out everywhere, so I haven’t seen anyone since this started. I travel for work, too, and am eager to hit the friendly skies again. I am a public speaker and usually travel five or six times a month, sometimes for months at a time. Before the pandemic hit, I was in Kenya, Nepal, Ecuador, and traveling all over the US. Being home has been its own gift, but I miss meeting and hugging people the most!
LS: What did completing your first marathon in 2016 teach you?
AH: I had no idea what running a marathon entailed when I toed that start line. I didn’t know any runners, so I had zero references. I had one long run of ten miles and used my survivor bib (the B.A.A. gave an invitational bib to each survivor) entry. I was standing at the start line and heard people talking about nutrition, long runs, paces, which I knew nothing about. I started to have a panic attack. My best friend turned to me and said “Adrianne, listen to me. What will get you to the finish line, is nothing compared to what got you to the start.” He was right. I had fought so hard to walk, dance, and simply survive. If I could do that, I could do anything. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I stopped in so many medical tents, I walked almost half of it and my leg hurt so badly. But when I crossed that finish line, dead last, after the course was closed, tears streaming down my face, I can honestly say I’ve never been more proud of myself. 10:44:28. I wanted to quit so many times. But I knew I was out there for more than just me. I was out there for other amputees watching. A few minutes later, President Obama tweeted me and I almost passed out. I was so happy. The biggest lesson I learned? That it’s a lot of work for a statement necklace and a free banana, but it’s worth it!
LS: What does being an ambassador for the first-ever Para Division for the Boston Marathon mean to you?
AH: It means everything to me, and that’s an understatement. I remember talking to Shalane Flanagan after racing Boston in 2014, then watching her win the TCS New York City Marathon in 2017. I wanted that too! (Don’t we all?!) I wasn’t near her speed, but when I looked up the different divisions, I was shocked there were none for amputees in the marathon distance. Even in the Paralympics. No one believed we could do it, and if we could, we weren’t worth being invited on the big stage of competition. I started to have conversations with race officials, and at the same time, I got a new leg, and upped my training. I got really fast and found a whole community online of other amputee runners. I knew we needed this. When the B.A.A. took me out for coffee for a meeting, I thought it was just for fun and catching up. When they told me there would be a new division and they had high hopes of me taking the win, I burst into tears. I was supposed to keep it a secret, so don’t tell I broke the rules, but I was able to tell Shalane in person shortly after. We were both emotional. Having the race officials, and someone of her talent believe in us amputees as competitive athletes is everything. When the B.A.A. had the Press Conference, my inbox was flooded. You know those YouTube videos where the kids are told they’re getting a puppy and everyone cries? I had video after video coming in with parents telling their kids that they could one day win the Boston Marathon. The kids were crying, the parents were crying. They still send me training videos. I hope people understand how much this is changing the game for all who are involved in the sport, even the spectators watching us race and changing their perspectives. My hope is, when you see an amputee in the grocery store, you don’t feel sorry for us. Instead, I want you to think, “Wow, I wonder if they’re a distance runner?”
LS: What’s one goal you are currently working towards in running and one outside of running?
AH: My main running goal right now is building my base. I took a lot of time off from running when Covid hit, and that was such a smart decision. Part of that was personal, and part of that was giving my mind the break it needed. After being hit by that car in 2019 I felt like I have been recovering physically, but during Covid, I finally took running off for mental reasons. As a result, I feel stronger than I ever have in my mental game. My running is stronger than ever, too. I’m able to do more in the gym than I ever have, I’m challenging myself with a clearer vision too. Just building the base for now, then I’ll shoot for time and speed goals next.
My goal outside of running is to finish my book. I am writing a book and hope to have it out in 2022. It covers my experience in 2013, along with the story of being adopted, and how that shaped me and ultimately got me up off that sidewalk and crawling to safety in 2013. I haven’t told that story yet publicly and I am looking forward to honoring the person I thought of first, my birth mother.
LS: Tell us a little about yourself outside of running.
AH: I can’t go on without talking about my dog Fred, who is my entire world. He is an Australian Labradoodle, and he’s simply perfect in every way. He is a service dog, so we are usually traveling the globe and speaking in front of crowds together. I think he loves being a homebody and sleeping in his own bed though. He’ll be five on St Patrick’s Day. The perfect excuse for a big party…on Zoom. I grew up in my parents' independent record and bookstore in Seattle. We always had traveling artists, bands, illustrators, and authors staying with us, spitting out poetry and doodling the next big thing on our napkins at dinner. I love writing and the arts, and am an avid reader. I’m also now, since Covid, a plant mom, but I fear what will happen to them when I travel again!
LS: What does the Boston running community mean to you, and how has it changed, if at all, over the past year?
AH: The Boston running community is the reason I became a runner. I vividly remember being in my hospital room in 2013 and hearing stories from the doctors and nurses about what runners were doing to support the survivor community. Just a few days later, Anderson Cooper came in and interviewed me. I told him I wanted to run the Boston Marathon as a thank you to the running community. My loved ones were waving their hands frantically off camera because they knew I used to forge notes in high school to get out of the mile. I had never run before. But the running community had adopted me and showed so much love, I was hooked before ever leaving the hospital and meeting a single runner.
I think it’s changed a lot. I think being at home, and alone more, we have all realized what level of normal we all want to, and should, go back to. My normal has always been getting back to new normals. So I adjusted pretty quickly to such a big change. I have been inspired to see communities include more Black lives and Black voices throughout brands and teams. That was long overdue. Yet, I have been disappointed to experience discrimination as a strong female’s voice as well. I think people’s true colors were shown when this first hit, and though hurtful, it opened my eyes to a bigger problem. I won’t let that change any of my goals or what I believe I can do. If something gets in my way, I have shown that I never give up on the goal. I just change the path on which I’m taking to achieve that goal. I’ve been knocked down more times than I can count. I always get back up.
This interview originally appeared in our Boston Community Newsletter. Sign up for this and other newsletters, here.