In the wake of a tragedy, people either lean on their family or push them away. When Dr. Nicole Fluet leaned on her family, it wasn’t her traditional family, but rather her race family — the family she endured the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing with.

As part of the volunteer medical team, Fluet wasn’t at the finish line when the bombs went off, but she was in the medical tent on Boylston Street helping a runner with an IV after completing the race, suffering a perilymph fistula injury in 2013 that required surgery to remove spinal fluid leaking from her brain to her inner ear.

“Some people just didn’t even know what was going on,” Fluet recalled. “People were outside having lunch. It was really weird. People (in the tent) thought a pipe burst, but I felt like a (jolt).”

“We all need to be kind to each other. There needs to be more of that in the world.”

Nicole Fluet

The “jolt” Fluet described was the sound of the bombs traveling along the water through the sewer system to where she was standing. She explained that the pressure she felt from the “jolt” actually mimicked concussive and post-concussive syndrome. She had trouble with her memory, coordination and suffered from eye pressure and headaches.

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Nicole Fluet/FaceBook

Immediately following the bombing, Fluet became a bit of a recluse because being out could trigger nystagmus in her vision and she would lose her ability to talk, almost as if she were having a seizure.

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Fluet, however, was out with a friend on a very important day — the day Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured by Watertown Police.

“I hadn’t left the house in days,” Fluet explained. “It was a very confusing time for me. I remember that I was out with a friend because I wasn’t comfortable doing anything.

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“We walked from my house to grab a (drink) and I hadn’t watched the news at all. I don’t remember how many days after it was. I didn’t really leave the house. I was very confused. I just didn’t know what was going on. Everyone was cheering and I was just sitting there but I think my head was so messed up between the injury that I didn’t know I had (at the time) and then I do have PTSD. So you know the combined part of that making your head really fuzzy.”

Fluet started volunteering at the Boston Marathon in 2004 while she was a student at Northeastern University and continued long after she earned her degree alongside some of her professors, and other medical professionals she met through the years. And despite the trauma of 2013, Fluet returned to Boston for the marathon in 2014 and every year since.

Nicole Fluet
Nicole Fluet/FaceBook

“It becomes your family,” she explained. “We call it our race fam. … We all volunteer because we just love it. That’s literally our family. Once you go through something like that, I was just looking for the positive after it.”

For Fluet, it’s part of her therapy to not let “Boston Strong” take a backseat in her life and spread what it means to her.

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“I think for me, it’s about keeping those relationships and that positivity,” Fluet explained. “Those people I get to see every year, my race family. Those people that will literally die for you.

“Other people remember the bombing as a part of history, just like 9/11, or other horrific tragedies but taking the good from it and realizing there’s more good in the world than bad.”

Taking the good meant Fluet switched her physical therapy specialty from sports-related to neuro vestibular physical therapy rehabilitation for patients with tumors, cancer or strokes.

“I never thought I would go through a terrorist attack,” Fluet said. “… But, I’m helping people and instead of running, I’m volunteering and I’m grateful for the people, the good things I have in my life. Not focus on being angry because I could be angry every day for the rest of my life and that wouldn’t help.”

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One thing that keeps her smiling is the Jeep Wrangler she purchased in 2021. She immediately changed the orange logo color of her limited edition Islander to blue and yellow — the colors of the Boston Marathon. Fluet even got a vanity license plate for her Jeep that reads “80STRNG.” The eight actually represents a “B” because “B0STRNG” was already taken.

Fluet created “Duck Duck Boston Strong,” where she and her family place rubber ducks with the “Boston Strong” ribbon on Jeeps across New England.

Duck Duck Boston Strong
Nicole Fluet/FaceBook

Despite everything she has gone through, Fluet will never turn her back on the marathon or her race family — and driving her Jeep with the wind in her hair.

“It’s very, very therapeutic. It was the best thing for me,” Fluet said. “Especially going into Boston. They love it when I show up at the race, with the top off and my license plate. Maybe that’s what keeps me going. I wanted to be positive.”

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Fluet has a message for those that may have suffered from the Boston Marathon bombings or other trauma in their life.

“On this 10-year journey, it stirred up (things) physically, emotionally and you see all these things about mental awareness. I was so ashamed before, but it’s a trauma type of therapy and a whole lifestyle change.

“I think I was ashamed of what happened to me and made to feel bad like I did. Like it was my fault, but I was just there at the wrong time and there’s nothing wrong with getting help whether it’s physical therapy, cognitive, emotional or psychological. We all need to be kind to each other. There needs to be more of that in the world.”

Featured image via Nicole Fluet