HOPKINTON— More than 20 children and teens gathered in the living room of Hope Valley resident Diane Martin on Saturday morning, whispering excitedly in anticipation of a special visitor at their weekly meeting.
As Boston Marathon survivor Heather Abbott walked into the room, the 4-Ever Amigos 4-H group burst into applause. Abbott, of Newport, was invited to speak at the meeting in coordination with this year’s club project, which focuses on anti-bullying.
“We wanted to choose someone in Rhode Island who was a victim of the bombing to donate to,” said Jess Elliott, who served as club president the past year, and helped the group coordinate fundraisers for Abbott. “I’ve followed her story since the beginning, and it’s been really inspirational to see how she overcame so many different challenges.”
Abbott talked about her challenges, including her road to recovery after her leg was partially amputated following the bombing on April 15 last year.
Abbott, who has learned to use a prosthetic leg attachment, said there are three ingredients to her recipe for recovery and success.
“First, I had to realize that I couldn’t control what happened to me, and that I was not able to change it,” Abbott said. “Once I was able to accept that, I realized that being sad or angry wasn’t going to help.”
Abbott said the other two key ingredients were widespread support, from Newport and all over the country, as well as her realization that her story could help inspire and provide hope to others.
Abbott talked about one of her recent friends, a 9-year-old boy with epilepsy who was also at the marathon but was not injured. The boy sent her his teddy bear for support. This past summer, he and his mother attended a fundraiser for Abbott at a local baseball game. After meeting him, Abbott gave him the ball she threw out for the first pitch, complete with her signature.
“I heard from his mom after that he sleeps with it every night,” Abbott said.
Many of the 4-H members described Abbott as a role model.
“I think this ties in with our project because people bully other people because they’re different,” said Julianne Wood, a 10-year-old club member from Hope Valley. “Just because Heather Abbott has one different thing about her doesn’t mean she’s not normal.”
“Bullying is something that affects everyone,” said Amelia Grimes, 15, of Charlestown. “I think she’s a role model for everyone here.”
Abbott explained to her rapt audience how the bombing has affected her outlook on life.
“Things that used to be really important to me don’t seem as important anymore,” she said. “I used to be a little obsessive about how things looked, how I looked, but now I don’t think about that too much.”
Abbott added that her view on handicapped people has changed as well, now that she has experienced firsthand the day-to-day struggles that a physical handicap can create.
“Things like ice and snow, having to shower, having to get up in the middle of the night and put my prosthetic on, I never thought about before,” Abbott said.
She also answered more lighthearted questions from the club, including her experience meeting singer and actress Beyoncé backstage after a concert.
Abbott had to admit that she did not own any pets because her schedule was too busy to take care of them. “But if I did, I would have a pug,” she said.
The club presented Abbott with a check for around $250, the result of fundraisers they held to contribute to Abbott’s medical expenses, as well as a scrapbook with pictures of the members at the fundraisers.
Martin said the group raised about $120 through its Christmas caroling fundraiser, combined with sales of animal crafts made from melted crayon parts. An additional $112 came from donations by members and their families, as well as from the Chariho Shovel Brigade, and a matching grant for the total amount raised by the club was pledged by Pfizer Inc., thanks to a club member’s father who works at the company.
Abbott concluded her visit by thanking the club. “It’s so nice to know that so many people want to help,” she said, adding that she is looking forward to returning to Boston to cheer on marathon runners in the 2014 event.
The 4-Ever Amigos 4-H Club is a local chapter of the national 4-H organization, which provides learning activities for youths in areas such as science, healthy living and food security.