Adrianne Haslet Inspires Students to Cross the Finish Line

Adrianne Haslet crosses a finish line, holding up her right hand in exaltation.
Image credit: Adrianne Haslet
Author  Aidan Reid ’24
Published on 

When she arrived on stage in Jewett Auditorium for her LeadBLUE event, a speaker series designed to inspire Wellesley’s student-athletes and the Wellesley community as a whole, Adrianne Haslet described falling in love with ballroom dancing as a child. She saw Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dancing on the television and told her parents, “I want to be Ginger Rogers when I grow up.”

To pursue her dream of professional ballroom dancing, she moved from her hometown near Seattle to Boston, where she taught dance, and she eventually competed internationally.

Haslet stumbled across the Boston Marathon while walking around the city on April 15, 2013. She had no idea what it was. “I [had] lived here for five years by then, but I danced 14 hours a day,” she said. Curious, Haslet stopped to watch the runners go by. “It was probably 10 minutes later when a blast went off, and my life changed.”

Domestic terrorists had planted two homemade bombs near the finish line of the marathon route, killing three people and injuring 281. Haslet was two feet away from the second bomb when it exploded. She lost her left leg, and almost her life.

Just a few days later, Haslet told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that she hoped to dance again and run in the Boston Marathon. “It felt so good to say those dreams out loud,” she told the Wellesley audience. Cooper called her the next day and said his interview with her was his most-watched interview ever at the time. He proposed that they document her first year as an amputee, and hopefully her dancing again or running.

While Haslet was originally hesitant to film her recovery, Cooper gave her the option to back out at any time, and so she agreed. The documentary, The Survivor Diaries, was released in 2014.

About a year after the bombing, Haslet was able to dance again thanks to a prosthetic leg, and she performed a ballroom dance at a TED conference. But she still had her goal of running the Boston Marathon to fulfill. “Witnessing the Boston Strong love that was there, I just thought the only way I know to give back is to run this race as a giant hug to Boston, and to be triumphant and show them the Boston Strong love right back,” she said.

Haslet completed her first Boston Marathon in 2016 and her second in 2018. She was training for the 2019 marathon when she was hit by a car. Back in the hospital with a seriously injured left arm, Haslet was prepared to give up on running altogether. But not long after she got out of the hospital, still with very little mobility in her left arm, the Boston Athletic Association told her it was adding a Para Athletics Division to the marathon, something Haslet had been advocating for. Haslet went on to run the 2022 Boston Marathon, and she took fourth in her division.

Haslet said she’s learned a very important lesson in the 10 years since the bombing: “What will get you to the finish line is nothing compared to what got you to the start.” When you’re up against something huge, she said, whether you’re standing at the starting line with 26.2 miles ahead of you, or you have a massive paper due, or it’s your first day at Wellesley, “We so often forget all of the things that brought us to that point.” In her case, she said, “I had to learn how to walk again, I had to learn how to dance, I had to learn how to navigate a New England winter, and I learned how to start maybe loving the body that I have now after not questioning it for 32 years.”

Haslet is now a professional speaker, and she continues to advocate for people with disabilities and visit amputees in hospitals. “I want to advocate for others and make them feel less alone, because I truly believe in my bones that PTSD is worse when you're going through something and you feel alone,” she said.

LeadBLUE is a program designed to prepare Wellesley’s student-athletes for leadership roles. The speaker series is open to the entire campus community. Previous speakers have included Schuyler Bailar and Briana Scurry.