One month after the Boston Marathon bombings changed their lives forever, family and friends of the Norden brothers gathered this morning in Hopkinton to walk the 26.2-mile route to Boston that so many were unable to finish.
Brothers J.P. Norden, 33, and Paul Norden, 31, who grew up in Stoneham, each lost a leg and suffered burns and other wounds when they had gathered with four others at the finish line April 15 to cheer on friend Mike Jefferson, who was running in the race. The Norden brothers are now receiving treatment at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. Paul is scheduled to be released later this week.
Speaking in Hopkinton, the brothers' uncle, Peter Brown, recalled watching the marathon on TV, and watched as the two bombs went off. Shortly thereafter, he received a frantic call from his sister. "I couldn't understand her, she was so emotional," he said. "My nephew, Pete, came on, and said 'Paul's in the hospital. We can't find J.P.'"
All six friends who had come to watch Jefferson suffered injuries, including Norden friend Marc Fucarile, who lost a leg and remains hospitalized at Massachusetts General.
As the Norden brothers began their recoveries, family members started looking for ways to help and to raise money.
"We wanted to do some thing to help with the healing, that could pay tribute and raise some funds to help the boys long-term," said Brown. "What I worry about is, six months from now, a year from now, what these guys are going to have to do to get better, and process what they've endured."
In the meantime, Brown said that Wednesday's goal was to walk the marathon route together, as family and friends.
Brown, who planned to walk the route today, called it a "monumental" task, adding he was feeling a little apprehensive about the finish line area, where two bomb blasts killed three and wounded more than 200.
"I'm trying to focus on just finishing this thing," said Caitlin Norden, speaking with her sister, Colleen, near the Hopkinton starting line.
"It's for them, so we'll do whatever we can to help them," Caitlin said, referring to her brothers J.D. and Paul. "They went to watch their friend finish, so we're going to finish it for them."
Caitlin said her brothers were surprised to learn of the walk, but added she was hoping to see them at the finish line on Boylston Street. "We're so tight. We couldn't be closer."
"I feel like, what they've been through, we can handle a few blisters to get through this," said Caitlin. "Just having them in our mind will get us through it."
Caitlin said her family has drawn strength and inspiration by watching the brothers recover. She said she has been to memorials at the finish line, and said she was grateful that her family can still tell the brothers "we love them."
Brown said the brothers have been getting "stronger every day" and have been "incredibly positive."
Clad in a shirt whose back read, "We decide when our Marathon ends," family friend Holly Judd, of Woburn, who was also walking the route, described the family as supportive and "amazing."
Now that the shock of the events is starting to wear off, Judd said it was time for the healing to begin. "That's the next step."
"I just kind of feel that this was taken away from J.P. and Paul, so we're going to finish it for them," Judd said. "They have amazing strength."
Supporters of the Nordens weren't the only ones who decided to make the trek to Boston Wednesday morning. Earlier, a small group, organized by Phil White of Derby, Vt. through Facebook, departed Hopkinton to walk the marathon route.
"I love Boston," White said. "I wanted to do something to honor the victims, and do something to take back the route from the demons of hate and fear."
Elaine Howley of Waltham, who was part of White's group, said that "we need to stand up and stand together, and make a strident noise against those who would have it undone."
Noreen Geraghty of Holyoke said she was hoping to feel a sense of closure after crossing finish line. "First there was a lot of anger, now it's about getting on with everything and healing. And I think today will be a nice part of that."