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Boston bombing victims focusing on the positive

Patrick Downes, center and his wife, Jessica Kensky, are victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. They're in town this week with therapist Harvey Naranjo from Walter Reed Army Medical Center as part of the Vail Veterans Program.

VAIL — Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes are Bostonian to their very marrow and were enjoying the Boston Marathon when the first bomb went off mere feet from them.

The young married couple are in Vail with the Vail Veterans Program. As the accused bomber’s trial began this week, Kensky and Downes are learning more than they wanted about the terrorist bombing that maimed them for life.

“It was right there,” Downes said, holding his left hand about 2 feet from his left hip.

Downes lost his left leg below the knee. Kensky lost both legs below the knee.

“We hate that we’ve had to get to know them (soldiers) under those circumstances, but we’re so thrilled and touched that we’ve been able to know them. They made me see they could be athletic, and so could we.”Patrick DownesBoston Marathon bombing victim

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It was terrible, and yet they say they’ve chosen to see at least some good in it. Most of all, that good lives in the hearts of the soldiers who have embraced them and supported them during their recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“They picked up Jessica and me time and time again,” Downes said.

Those soldiers know exactly what they’re going through. A terrorist bomb in Boston inflicts the same kinds of injuries as a terrorist bomb in a Middle East war zone, Downes pointed out.

Angels in camo

Kensky and Downes were in the hospital about a week after the April 15, 2013, bombing when they were visited by a group of soldiers, all badly injured in Afghanistan and Iraq. They were strong, their gaits were smooth and they were confident, Downes said.

“We hate that we’ve had to get to know them under those circumstances, but we’re so thrilled and touched that we’ve been able to know them,” Downes said. “They made me see they could be athletic, and so could we.”

“It’s such a gift when you’re in that hospital bed and you’re starting to cross off the things you can’t do, and you don’t think you’ll even be able to do again,” Downes said.

Patriots’ Day

You have to be in Boston on Patriots’ Day to understand the spirit of the place, Downes said.

They had both competed in previous Boston Marathons, but weren’t that year. Downes had landed an internship in Southern California and they were taking in one last marathon before they left, he said.

They were near the finish line, enjoying the spectacle, when the first bomb went off. Downes said they don’t remember much, but they’re learning more and more as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial unfolds.

Victims of the Boston Marathon bombing are describing scenes of abject horror. They recounted a young boy bleeding to death, bones strewn on the sidewalk and bodies hurled through the air.

Tsarnaev faces 30 charges in the bombings and the shooting death days later of a police officer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Seventeen of the charges carry a possible death penalty.

Three people were killed and more than 260 hurt when two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line seconds apart.

Kensky will testify during the trial, and politely declined to talk about it during this week’s Vail Veterans Program activities. She did, however, grin from ear to ear and holler with pure joy as she slid down the fire pole in the West Vail fire station, one of the Vail Veterans Program traditions. Anyone who wants to, gets to do so.

A question of focus

Downes said while he and his wife are in Vail, they’re choosing to heap praise the Vail Veterans Program and the soldiers who’ve been so supportive during their recovery — instead of dwelling on the tragedy and trial.

For the last 12 years, the Vail Veterans Program has provided free vacation trips to Vail for more than 1,000 military personnel injured in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families. Several come from Walter Reed, as did Downes and Kensky.

Downes said the soldiers at Walter Reed embraced them simply because they could.

“They care for us the way they cared for each other,” Downes said.

“They’re entitled to that, but they embraced us and made sure we were cared for and cared about in the same way,” Downes said.

Supporters come from all around in all different forms, and they all matter, Downes said.

“Someone can write a check and feel good about it, and the manifestation of that money is greater than they could ever imagine,” Downes said. “The generous care and giving nature of the town of Vail and the people associated with this program is overwhelming.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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