Ballroom dancer and dance teacher Adrianne Haslet was standing by the finish line of the Boston marathon in 2013, cheering on the runners, when two bombs went off in a terrorist attack. She was one of the hundreds injured, and her left leg had to be amputated below the knee. Haslet made two promises to herself after losing her leg: that she would one day dance again, and that she would run the marathon. Just three years later, she has already achieved both goals.
Haslet tells SELF that it took her a long time to come to terms with the realities of losing her leg, and that she’s still in the process of learning and adapting.
“Using a prosthetic has taught me a ton about my body,” she says. “It was an extraordinarily humble experience to have your body change so drastically and then try and appreciate it. Let alone love it. Let alone show it. Let alone wear shorts or be on camera talking about it. It’s a huge process. I hated it. I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want to look at it. I talked about it a lot, but it took me a long time to really show it.”
Through tremendous effort, determination, and hours of intensive rehab, Haslet has been able to dance again. And this spring, she completed the 2016 Boston marathon, against all odds. After spending almost 10 hours on the course (including nearly two in the medical tent), she crossed the finish line to applause from police officers, volunteers, and spectators.
While losing her leg changed her life, Haslet refuses to let the experience define her—or slow her down. She has become a vocal advocate and champion for amputee rights, dedicating her time and public platform to raise awareness and money for organizations such as Limbs for Life and the USO, helping to provide prosthetics to people who can’t afford them and change legislation to make them more readily available. She also recently climbed the third-highest mountain in Ecuador.
“I’ve said this a million times, and it’s always worth repeating,” she said. “I’m a survivor defined by how I live my life, not a victim defined by one specific thing that happened in my life. I believe that that process of accepting my leg for the way it is is accepting the fact that I’m not gonna let that one thing, this one part of my body define me.”