It’s been five years since Dave Fortier decided to run his first marathon. Five years since he suffered shrapnel wounds and hearing loss due to the blasts on Boylston Street. Five years since he saw the power that happens when a community, a city, a country comes together after a tragedy.
Now, five years later, Fortier is helping those affected by tragedy connect on a global scale, helping those harmed in terrorist attacks heal by bonding with people who have been through something similar.
One World Strong, an organization Fortier founded with Boston survivors Celeste Corcoran and Michelle L’Hereux, recently received nonprofit status. The organization celebrated with an event at Fenway Park, and survivors from all around the world were in attendance
“We were bringing a bunch of folks together from all different countries, they didn’t know each other but they knew everyone had been through something,” Fortier said. “You would’ve thought we’d been at a family reunion of 25 years — it was an incredible thing to watch, just that common denominator of trauma between culture, countries and religions.”
Something special happens when survivors come together. Fortier found this out first when Marines, who had lost limbs or otherwise been injured in explosions, began visiting Boston Marathon bombing survivors in the wake of the 2013 attack through the Semper Fi Fund.
“It’s one thing for a doctor, a nurse, a therapist or a family member to say ‘you’re gonna be OK.’ It’s quite another when somebody who also has two prosthetic legs walks into your room, after you lost your legs, and says ‘It’s gonna to be OK. It’s gonna be difficult, but OK, and I’m gonna be here for you,’” Fortier said.
That scenario is exactly what happened to his One World Strong co-founder Corcoran, and the ethos behind the charity.
In 2016, the survivors went on a "One World Trek" as a way to thank everyone who reached out to them when they needed it. They met up with first responders and other survivors from 9/11, the Newtown shooting, the Pulse nightclub shooting (which happened in the midst of the trek) and more.
“We spent four days in Orlando, and we saw same bonds being formed [as in Boston] at that time,” Fortier said. “We saw that when you walk into somebody’s hospital room, it’s like you've known them for 20 years. All pretense drops. You’ve both experienced a similar form of trauma — one’s a shooting, one’s a bombing, but the underlying piece is a similar form of trauma.”
Sitting on the plane in Florida, Fortier knew there was something to this, he said. He looked for an organization that was connecting survivors — so people could find someone to talk to both right after a tragedy and also after the initial outpouring of support, as it always does, dies down.
Fortier couldn’t find such a thing, so he made his own, and now One World Strong has received its 501c3 designation.
That One World Strong celebrated this achievement before the fifth anniversary of the bombings is just another factor that makes this year’s race special for Fortier.
He’s run every Boston Marathon since 2013, but this year, for the first time, he’ll be running with his daughter by his side. She was a spectator five years ago, then 13, and saw Fortier run by only minutes before the bombs exploded.
“For me to be able to finish five years later with my daughter… I’ve got a feeling it might be a little emotional for me,’ he said. “Running 26.2 miles makes you emotional anyway.”