Listening to Jeff Bauman on stage at Bowling Green State University, it's easy to imagine he'd talk to strangers.
|Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman (left) is wheeled out by Carlos Arredondo, the man who helped save his life, to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park on May 28. Bauman is working on a memoir titled “Stronger,” scheduled to come out in April. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)
That's what the 28-year-old was doing 11 months ago, waiting for his girlfriend at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The atmosphere on that bright spring day was festive, and everyone was chatting together.
Except the "weird" tall guy carrying a backpack who Bauman noticed standing next to him. "He was not having fun."
When Bauman turned again, the tall guy was gone, but his backpack was still there. Bauman sensed something was wrong. He turned to a friend to suggest they move.
There was a "flash," he said, "and three pops," and he was on the ground. Around him was total chaos. Then he realized how badly ripped apart his legs were. When he looked down at his legs, "there was nothing there ... I was really messed up." Then he heard the second blast. He didn't think he would make it, and he thought about calling his mother but his phone was gone.
That tall guy was Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who stands accused of planting one of two bombs at the finish line of last year's Boston Marathon that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others. His older brother and accomplice Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed later that week by police. The brothers had also killed a police officer earlier. The next day Dzhokhar Tamerlan was discovered bloodied and hiding in a boat.
While all this was unfolding Bauman was just regaining consciousness, having nearly died from his wounds.
Bauman was speaking Wednesday at BGSU promoting the book he wrote about his experience, "Stronger," which will be released April 8.
The Massachusetts native, who now is fitted with prosthetic legs, said before the April 15, 2013 tragedy, he was someone much like the students in his audience. He'd attended a couple colleges, and had a job with Costco, and didn't have much direction in life.
"I'm going to be a loser," he quipped. "I tell my mother that every day."
Bauman, who grew up north of Boston, loved sports, including basketball. He loved going out with his friends.
And he had a girlfriend, Erin Hurley. She was in college and working at Brigham and Women's Hospital. She ran the three miles from her apartment to work every day. She was training for the marathon. "She had her stuff together," he said.
So on the day of the marathon, he got her to the starting line, then went back to bed. Then he and her roommate Michelle, headed to the 16-mile mark in Newton just west of the city. They hopped into a cab to drive to the finish line in the heart of downtown.
That's where tragedy struck, and Bauman became part of one of the defining images of that day.
Prone on the ground, bleeding, surrounded by body parts and people who had swarmed in to help, using whatever they could find to improvise tourniquets under the directions of a doctor from Georgia, he was snatched up and plopped into a wheelchair by "this crazy man," Carlos Arredondo, and rushed to the medical tent.
The image of Arredondo wearing a cowboy hat pushing Bauman to get treatment made the front pages of newspapers around the world. "You're going to make it brother," Arredondo kept hollering at him.
In the medical tent it was hectic and confused. In the ambulance, "I could feel myself slipping away."
By the time he got to the hospital, he knew it was a bomb, and as he moved into the emergency room, he started to tell people about what he saw. "I thought I was going to die ... I have to get out everything I know."
But he survived. When he woke up, what was left of one leg was amputated. He had visitors - his mother, New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman and actor Bradley Cooper.
In the time since Bauman's been consumed with his rehabilitation. A wheelchair represented freedom from his bed. The prosthetic legs offer more mobility, though he's still learning to maneuver on them.
And he's been approached by the media as Tsarnaev's trial approaches. Asked whether he should get the death penalty, Bauman said he's not one of those crying for his execution. In a way he can related to the two brothers, men about the same age as himself and his brother, but how they could attack so many people is unfathomable to him. Bauman said he just wants him put away so he can't commit another atrocity. "That's all I have to say about that."
He's remained in contact with Arredondo. He's learned that the Costa Rican native has experienced his share of tragedy, losing two sons, one serving as a Marine in Iraq and one later by suicide.
Arredondo has driven him around as needed, and they've traveled to his native Costa Rica.
Bauman admits he feels guilt. "This happens all around the world every day, and people don't get the support."
So he reaches out. He stays in touch with a 7-year-old boy who lost his legs in a hunting accident. "I try to pay it forward as much as I can."
Bauman's recovery continues. He has a new goal. Hurley is now his fiance, and she's five months pregnant. Bauman said he working so he can stand steady and hold his child.