In her talk at Wellesley on Oct. 16, Boston Marathon bombing survivor and motivational speaker Adrianne Haslet left the audience with four lessons: that “no” just means not yet, to take three (seconds, days, months or years) before making a decision, to say our dreams aloud and to let go of perfectionism. She spent two hours telling the audience, mostly made up of Blue athletes, her story of perseverance and grit. Beyond just inspiring, her speech was hilarious, poignant and optimistic.
Haslet was a professional ballroom dancer. She first witnessed ballroom dance when she was a child sneaking into the living room to watch TV after her bedtime; she saw Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire on the screen, and decided she wanted to be just like Ginger. Her drive was unstoppable. She made her way without college, but it was incredibly competitive to find gigs. This is where she told us her first lesson: “no” means not yet. She was rejected several times before finally getting her break as a professional dancer. She later moved to Boston for the opportunities in the ballroom industry, and was selected to perform at the world championships by her company, Arthur Murray Dance Studio. After a few years of struggling to make the world finals, in 2013, Haslet had just won third at the competition. She was elated, yet upon her return, her boss threatened that if she did not win first in 2014, she should not bother coming home.
The following Monday, overwhelmed and overworked, she decided to take the day off, something she was not technically allowed to do. Despite her boss’ protests, she slept in, took herself to lunch in the city, and walked around Boston. She happened upon the finish line of the Boston Marathon, which she did not know was happening; she asked a passerby “what is this?” and they looked at her as if she were an alien. While she walked a little further from the start line to get a better look, she heard the first bomb go off behind her. The next one went off a few seconds later two feet from where she stood. After sitting up and looking at herself, she realized her left leg was missing; her first thought was: “There goes Ginger.”
Thanks to the valiant efforts of an off-duty EMT, who put both her legs in makeshift belt tourniquets, she made it to the hospital alive in just eight minutes. She was then told she had to call her family to say goodbye, as the doctors predicted she would not make it through her surgery. This is where she taught us her second lesson: to “take three.” She only had time for one call, and she took three measured seconds to decide who to talk to. She called her dad, who was in the car with her mom, and said the hardest goodbye of her life. Luckily, when she came to, her parents were waiting for her.
She awoke to a lot of media attention and support, and her most memorable interview was with Anderson Cooper. She told him she dreamt of dancing again and returning to the Boston Marathon to complete it as a runner. This is where she told us her third lesson: to say our dreams aloud. In the following months, she went through the grueling process of learning to walk with a prosthetic leg. She was able to dance again, within the year, at a TED event. In 2016, she returned to and finished the Boston Marathon. This is where she taught us her final lesson of the evening: to let go of perfectionism. She had been a meticulous perfectionist all her life, as is often the case in professional dance, and at this race she was finally able to let go. She did take over 10 hours to finish, stopping for multiple beers, snacks and Wellesley kisses, but she finished triumphantly. When she wanted to stop, she thought, “there’s a terrorist out there who would be very happy if I gave up right now.”
She started to take running more seriously in the following years, because she loves to do it. She ran the marathon again in 2018, but was not able to finish due to weather, planning to return in 2019. Shortly before the 2019 race, she was struck by a car, having to revisit the hospital and overcome a devastating injury yet again. She was able to return to training, and finally in 2022 finished the Boston Marathon again in fourth place in the Para-Division, which she also helped to create. She hopes to return again to the 2024 Boston marathon, where she plans on stopping for Wellesley kisses, so keep an eye out!
Haslet’s story exemplifies the Boston Strong mentality, and represents why the Wellesley community is so proud to be part of the Boston Marathon each year. It was a gift to have her visit our campus, and we are excited to see her again at the halfway point in the spring.