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RHA 2015 Conference Keynote by Roseann Sdoia, former ND VP and Marathon Bombing Survivor

The Real Reporter
By Mike Hoban

On April 15, 2013 Roseann Sdoia’s life changed forever. That was the day of the Marathon bombing, when the second of two IED explosions shattered her right leg, which was later amputated. The road to recovery has been long and arduous, but through perseverance and determination, she has slowly learned to transform her thinking and turn her experiences into a source of support and encouragement for others facing similar challenges. Roseann will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Rental Housing Association’s 2015 Expo, which will be held September 29th at the Hynes Convention Center (more details on the conference following her story below.

By now, many of us are familiar with the details of Roseann Sdoia’s harrowing ordeal and the near-miraculous series of events that put her on the road to recovery: The deadly explosion that brutally mangled her leg; the life-saving actions of the college student who literally carried her to the first responders; the loving care of the firefighter who accompanied her to the hospital (and who would later become her partner); the amputation of her right leg above the knee; and the physically and emotionally demanding training that enabled her to run her first 5K last year.

It is the stuff of a Hallmark movie, but unlike movies, real life continues on long after the credits roll or ( in her case) you cross a finish line; so Roseann Sdoia continues to fight every day. The road to recovery has been filled with setbacks as well as triumphs, all of which have served to better prepare her to be of help to other people that have suffered the loss of limbs, because she has been there.
“Often people say to me, ‘I don’t think I would have the strength to do what you’ve done through this’. And I think if it were me looking or talking to someone that had this happen to them, I’d be saying the same thing,” Sdoia acknowledges. “But the truth of the matter is, you don’t know what you have the strength to do until you’re actually faced with it.”

As inspiring as Sdoia’s journey has been, the path has not been without pitfalls. In October of 2013, she had hoped to return to a “normal” life by going back to her position of Vice President of Property Management at National Development. But she soon realized that going back to work and sitting behind a desk was actually having a detrimental effect on her recovery. “During those six months I felt as though my mobility had gone backwards because I was allowing people to do things for me. People want to help – and people were unbelievable – but it became easy to say okay.”

In addition, she did not feel that she was meeting her own expectations in terms of job performance. “Property management is a very demanding job, especially on the residential side, and I had a team of 25 employees that needed answers, support and direction, and I felt I was not effectively providing that,” she says. She ended up taking a leave of absence to “figure things out” – with the full support of her employer. “National Development was just phenomenal,” she adds.

So in 2014, she focused mainly on her physical recovery, which culminated in the running of a 5K in Lowell, just before Thanksgiving. (“It was more of a shuffle,” she jokes). It was not long after that it became clear that the recovery process was going to take a very long time. “I had this epiphany where it was like, ‘Oh my God! It’s taken me two years to get my gait to where it was almost normal. And running two times a week, it’s going to take me a lot longer,” she recalls. “I was really beating myself up and getting depressed about (my progress), but then I had that epiphany and I was okay. So this year has been focused on getting my life organized – the where and how I want to go about my future and what that means, finding out what’s really important to me, and what to focus on going forward.”

Sdoia says she has things about “80 percent figured out”, and this summer is the first time in two-and-a-half years that her life has begun to feel settled. “As crazy and chaotic as it’s been, I wouldn’t change anything over the past two years, and I am so grateful and thankful for those unbelievable opportunities I’ve had, because they’ve given me a chance to realize what I can do and can’t do, and what I want to try to pursue versus what I don’t.” So her focus has changed from trying to run a marathon to finding the best way to help other amputees get through the difficult process.

She is especially grateful for the organizations that supported her through her recovery, from the initial hospitalizations through today. Within two days, the nonprofit America’s Fund (a division of the Semper Fi Fund – which is usually reserved for wounded military personnel) reached out, providing encouragement and support to both Sdoia and her family. “They knew how psychologically debilitating it could be, and how important it was for my family to know that I was going to be okay. And for me to see how people who were missing a leg or both could be so natural and so physically fit was huge. And it was also important for me to see female amputees.”

During the course of her recovery, she has been greatly aided by a number of organizations designed to help amputees to transition to a fully functioning life, including Challenged Athletes Foundation, Wiggle Your Toes, Disabled Sports USA, Friends of Bethany and many others. And locally, she credits the Greg Hill Foundation with providing support. One of her goals now is to pay it forward by helping others who have lost a limb – whether it be from trauma or cancer or some other illness – to connect with these organizations.
“I think it’s truly important for me to give back to so many of these organizations who, starting on that day, helped me to survive,” says Sdoia. “For me, I have people who come to me and tell me about a person that is (going to have a limb amputated), and my immediate response is ‘When do you want me to talk with them?’ Because they need to know that there are organizations out there that can be so supportive during this awful time.”

Sdoia also does numerous speaking engagements with schools and business organizations, to deliver the message that although life has many obstacles, if you try to stay positive in situations that you can’t control, you can get through anything. “If you can’t change it, why talk about it? You can go to self-pity, or you can do what you need to do to move on. You have a choice. It depends on which road you want to go down.”

About the 2015 RHA Conference:
This will be the fifteenth annual conference and exposition, with 91 exhibitors and 650 attendees already committed. The conference speakers, in addition to Roseann, include Chrystal Kornegay, Undersecretary for Housing and Community Development for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; Michael Roberts, Senior Vice President of Development for AvalonBay, and motivational speaker Tim Gard. In addition there is an awards ceremony recognizing communities of excellent and professional achievement. For more information on the conference, go to: http://www.gbreb.com/rha/web/2015Expo/index.html

The Rental Housing Association (RHA) is the local affiliate of the National Apartment Association (NAA), and consists of over 600 members who own, manage or provides goods and services to 130,000 apartment homes in Massachusetts. NAA is a federation of 170 state and local affiliates, NAAn encompasses over 68,000 members representing more than 7.86 million apartment homes throughout the United States and Canada