Boston Marathon Survivor Shares Her Recovery in Anderson Cooper's Latest Doc (Video)
"I remember every minute just as much as I did one year ago," says Adrianne Haslet-Davis of the Boston Marathon explosions that occurred April 15, 2013, and killed three and injured 264 people.
Haslet-Davis, who lost part of her foot in the blasts and later underwent a below-the-knee amputation, documents her yearlong journey of recovery on Anderson Cooper's AC360, which premieres at 7 p.m. PT Tuesday on CNN.
"When we first met with Adrianne in the hospital after her surgery, she had this incredible spirit and tenacity to resume her life and to dance again," Cooper tells The Hollywood Reporter on why he was drawn to Haslet-Davis' story. "It's not an easy thing to agree to. I'm very pleased with how it turned out."
Haslet-Davis noted that when Anderson and his team met her and her husband, Adam Davis, who returned from Afghanistan on an Air Force tour and suffered shrapnel wounds in his legs from the blasts, "it was a no-brainer" to be documented by them. "I wanted to make sure it was the honest truth and not something that was sugar-coated or made for television," she adds.
Haslet-Davis, who admitted to her discomfort at times while sharing her everyday life, found the importance of telling the story of an amputee with PTSD. "The most surprising thing about filming was realizing how talking it out and reaching out to someone on the other end felt so therapeutic," she says. "The bigger surprise was discovering how much people didn't know about prosthetics in the amputee community and the limited options for woman amputees. I hope I can showcase and change that."
The 33-year-old, who has performed professional ballroom dance throughout her adult life, struggled with finding a "new sexy and a new self-image" in a community of vanity. "It's very rare for me to go out and not care about clothing. For a while there, I wasn't celebrating my body. It was excruciating," says Haslet-Davis. "I also learned the strengths of a good marriage. We try to celebrate the good, but on certain days and in certain venues when the echo is really bad, we can't be there."
One of Haslet-Davis' strongest points from her recovery was her encounter with Hugh Herr, the head of the Biomechatronics research group at the MIT Media Lab. After his article on the Boston blasts in The Wall Street Journal, Haslet-Davis heard him speak at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Center and was shocked to discover the advancement of the amputee community. Herr's comment on how people will soon look at amputees changing their legs as being as simple as someone changing their eyeglasses gave her hope for the future. She spent time at the lab three times a week studying dance and working on the leg. Haslet-Davis' prosthetic leg that she received four months ago marked Cooper's favorite moments in the documentary.
"The scene where she gives me a dancing lesson was something I asked her when I met her in the hospital room. For me, it's embarrassing since I'm a terrible dancer," jokes Cooper. "During TED Talk, while they're announcing her on stage, she's shooting herself talking backstage on an iPhone. The way it's intercut to the scene of her dancing is incredibly moving," he says.
Watch the clip below of Haslet-Davis performing on stage at the TED conference in Vancouver.
For Haslet-Davis and her husband, being invited to join the Red Sox parade by Boston Marathon sponsor John Hancock was her proudest moment. "That, and fulfilling the lifelong dream of swimming with a shark in Costa Rica. I had to be cool like Anderson," she added.
Cooper believes the marathon "will be an extraordinary reclaiming of the joyous event," he says. "It's a day that is not going to be defined by last year. The city has moved forward with more runners and spectators than ever before. All of us have continued to see what Boston strong really means, and this year we're going to see it stronger than ever."
Haslet-Davis, who will appear right at the finish line, feels the strength of the city coming closer and closer. "I think while it's important we are all Boston strong, we are not always Boston strong," admits Haslet-Davis. "I'm not perfect. I throw pillows; I throw vases. I get upset that this happened," she says. While she is grateful for the leg, to her "it still feels different, and I'm still very aware that I can't feel the ground. But just like any amputee's journey, the more and more I do it, the more I will stop comparing. Comparing is the thief of joy."
"For Adrianne to be willing to document not only the high but also the low points, the nightmares she's had, the failures she's had and the setbacks she's had, that's a whole lot of courage to not only go through those things, but also expose yourself to document it," says Cooper. "There are steps forward and backwards. To see that in an intimate way is really powerful."
Haslet-Davis says she is in talks to appear on Dancing With the Stars in the future and in the meantime is practicing dance and public speaking, so she can share her story with people in cities all over the world. Like the rest of her fellow survivors, Haslet-Davis feels the anxiety. "Is this where I should be, how far I should be, where people thought I would be?" she says, "You're left with a lot of questions and self-reflection. It will be interesting and healing to see the hourlong survivor diaries."